Uncover Our Invisible Writers I Oxford Open Learning

Uncover Our Invisible Writers

Why Authors Hide Their Identity

Books are written to reflect the world around us, to enliven our world views, and hopefully, to challenge and broaden our often unconscious conceptual biases. Yet over the years many different ideas have developed about just who is ‘entitled / able / qualified’ to write about which subjects, or address certain topics or standpoints; so much so that that the very nature of authorship has come under scrutiny.

For years writers have been plagued by the need to hide their identity, and specifically their gender, depending not only on the time in which they write but also on their chosen genre of writing. The perception of a male author writing romantic fiction is less favourable than that of a female author doing the same, for example. The reading public, and more specifically, the publishing powers, have been seen to make sweeping assumptions and erroneous judgements that particular individuals are unable to understand or write about particular subjects with the required level of knowledge or emotional insight.

Sadly, the perspective of the publishing houses has been one of sales, and far from challenging preconceived ideas, they have instead been perpetuating them by acquiescing to the paying public and providing non-gendered authors, or continuing to provide the veil of an economically acceptable pen name.

An Enduring Issue for Writers

Far from this being a bygone circumstance, relegated to history and the days of Mary Anne Evans publishing as George Elliot and Charlotte Brontë writing as Currer Bell, so too the likes of JK Rowling and EL James have adjusted their highly visible ‘nom de plumes’ to reflect their need to be seen as a serious contender in gender biased markets. Their choice of gender neutral names have been documented as relating to publishers’ fears, that young boys might be put off by a perceived female slant to the magical Harry Potter novels and the view that crime fiction is better executed by analytically orientated men respectively.

It is, inevitably, a sad fact that these views can be off-putting for the very people who might offer new and insightful avenues of discourse and enquiry. The visibility of individuals showing that they are capable of writing articulate, interesting, marketable material regardless of their demographic, or even with their actual social status (as defined by themselves but not couched in publishing houses fears) is surely a position worth aiming for. This has the potential to be one which will inspire others to write what they truly feel, from the depths of their imagination. And so too, to provide the knowledge that the juxtaposition of social construction of gender or social status alongside their work may just provide the sorts of nuance modern writing needs. 

The opportunities the written word provides are much more far-reaching than simply the fact or fiction that is read. The social spheres within which today’s narratives and discourses are held all create particular resonances; they interact and relate to each sphere and as a result are visibly changed by it. It is by utilising all of these opportunities and aspects that the reader achieves their maximum entertainment and intellectual and emotional gain. It is by doing this that we all, as individuals, grow. 

Recognise Our Writers Fully

Now is a good time to slough off the old prejudices that dictate that only certain demographics can write about certain topics. It is time to allow people to see the validity of all experiences, coupled with breadth of imagination. Only in this way can we allow all authors to have an authentic voice, and an authentic name.

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