If last year’s edition of The Best Buddhist Writing was the most Asian volume published to date, then this year’s volume is a return to normal.
For the past nine years, Melvin McLeod and the other Shambhala Sun editors have gathered into a single book “a thought-provoking mix of the most notable and insightful Buddhism-inspired writing published in the last year.” On average, six or seven Asian writers make it into the volume, which translates to a ratio of about one in five. This year is perfectly typical with six Asian writers at a ratio of exactly one in five. That’s not many when you consider that more than three-in-five American Buddhists are Asian.
I had hoped that last year’s exceptional number of Asian writers would mark the start of a new normal. Compared to TheBigThree print magazines, The Best Buddhist Writing historically includes a higher proportion of Asian authors. The editors even highlighted their awareness of diversity issues last year when they organized a Buddhadharma forum titled, “Why is American Buddhism so White?” Maybe there wasn’t much good Asian writing to be found this year. Maybe 2011 was a fluke.
The editors at least managed to find new Asian writers, unlike the two years when the only Asian authors included where those who had been published in previous volumes.
If Asian Buddhist writers are to be better represented in The Best Buddhist Writing, then the yearly number of new Asian authors will have to grow. This shift will be reflected in the measure of “Best Asian Writers”—those who have ever been published in The Best Buddhist Writing—as a proportion of the total lot of “Best Buddhist Writers.” Since the series’ inception in 2004, this proportion has declined from less than one in five to now just one in seven.
In other words, new non-Asian writers have been included in The Best Buddhist Writing at a greater frequency than Asians have been.
For The Best Buddhist Writing to meaningfully include more Asian writers, the editors could include in each volume the writing of four Asians who had not been included in any previous edition. That’s just one more than the three new writers who are currently added on average each year. Of course it means that more work would need to be done to find that worthy piece of writing. My hunch is that as the Shambhala Sun editors get more used to seeking out good writing by Asian authors, they will develop sharper intuitions on where to look and they’ll find some more promising work along the way.
This year’s The Best Buddhist Writing 2011 has made positive strides across the board in the inclusion of Asian Buddhist writers. Nine of the 32 contributors are Asian. That’s more Asians than ever before. They also make up a larger proportion of the authors than ever before. You could say that this year’s volume is in fact the “most Asian” volume published so far. This increase in representation boosts the entire series’ overall quotient to 20.3 percent (compared to 19.2 percent as of last year’s publication). As usual, I’ve included an Asian Meter chart to illustrate the comparison with previous years.
This progress is especially notable for the number of new Asian writers. Many of the writers in The Best Buddhist Writing also have been published in previous volumes; in the past three years, 42 (2008), 58 (2009) and 61 (2010) percent of writers in Best had also previously appeared in the series. In the last two years, none of the new writers were Asian; all Asians in those volumes also had work published in previous volumes of Best. In contrast, of the nine Asian writers included in this year’s volume, four are new.
Of course, the representation of Asian writers is still quite low compared to the proportion of Asian Buddhists in the North American Buddhist community. My count of nine authors is perhaps inflated by the fact that one of the pieces is co-authored by two Tibetan monks. (I count authors, not pieces.) Best also features fewer authors this year (32) than it usually does (34 on average). If we further take gender into account, we see that all of the Asian authors are male, even while this volume of Best is the closest yet to gender parity. (Women comprise 15 of the 32 writers.)
That said, progress is progress. Not only has the Asian quotient improved over last year, this year’s quotient is the highest yet. I hope with all my heart that they will keep up this good work.
(Thanks to the Tricycle blog for bringing this book to my attention!)
One of my side projects includes tallying Asian writers. Specifically, I tally the bylines set aside to Asian writers in mainstream Buddhist publications. Early last year, I investigatedThe Best Buddhist Writing series and came away with the following three conclusions: Asians are underrepresented in the anthology (about 19 percent of authors), most of these Asian writers tended to be Tibetan, and the Asian authors reappear in the pages more frequently than their non-Asian counterparts (who make up a much larger, mostly white pool).
A few weeks back, I updated my “database” to include The Best Buddhist Writing for 2009 and 2010. Little surprise, the running average remains almost exactly the same, at 19.2 percent.
But I’ve been more interested in a different statistic. It turns out that the editors of The Best Buddhist Writing choose from a very small pool of Asian authors. Out of 163 authors who have ever appeared in its pages, a mere 21 have been Asian, accounting for 46 bylines. Now, the real shock came when I tried to answer the question: How many new Asian Authors join each year?
Over the past two years—none!
The number of Asian authors—those who had ever had their work published in The Best Buddhist Writing—increased each year until 2008, where it plateaued at 21. In 2009 and 2010, the Asian authors all had also been published in previous volumes. In contrast, the number of total writers keeps on growing, as new non-Asian authors continue to be added to the mix.