On the one hand, it's a mystery. What's happening to all these great young women writers?
On the other, it's not: Women get sidelined in the literary world the same way they do in so many other lines of work. Literary journalism, in particular, can be unfriendly to women. Or, worse, friendly in all the wrong ways, diverting women writers toward "women's subjects" and burying those stories behind "general interest" stories by men -- as if anything that was important to half of humanity isn't a subject for all of humanity.
Then there's the narrative voice favored by so many leading publishers of literary journalism. Nobody says it's male; it just is. There's the John McPhee school and the Hunter Thompson school, the young dudes who want to be DFW and the responsible Remnicks. There are Gladwellians and Eggerites and Jungeristas.
I think half of the writers on this list are brilliant, and of course even now countless writers of all genders emulate Joan Didion. But then, Didion is always the exception cited by defenders of the literary journalism men's club. The point and the problem is that on average more middle class, middle educated, white men are going to wind up sounding like McPhee or Thompson or DFW or Junger and getting published because they do. As long as those are the reigning paradigms, literary journalism will be a man's world.
Maybe the demographics I see in my classrooms will change things. Maybe 40 Towns will help. In the meantime, there are an increasing number of websites by young writers dedicated to drawing attention to and publishing literary journalism and creative nonfiction by women, among them Vela -- travel writing -- The Riveter, and Ann Friedman's Ladyjournos! tumblr. There'll be more. We didn't create 40 Towns to be part of this trend, but we're proud that it is.