When the Oprah Winfrey Show launched Oprah’s Book Club in 1996, its three books that year were all written by women: Jane Hamilton, Toni Morrison and Jacquelyn Mitchard.

 But fifteen years later and sixty-four book selections after those first selections, Oprah’s book club authors are starting to look the same: white and male. Oprah’s Book Club hasn’t selected a novel written by a woman since 2004, and out of the twenty most recent selections, only three authors of color exist: Uwern Akpan, Gabriel García Márquez and Sidney Poitier. With the show ending its storied run after this year, the fact absence of more female authors is a glaring omission.

The New York Times Book Review is generally believed to contain the most influential literary criticism in the U.S., but it still doesn’t begin to compare to the Oprah effect — or what’s known as her “million dollar touch.” Oprah has turned classics like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden into sold out books that are only available through waiting lists. 

Oprah’s Book Club is, well, Oprah’s book club and Oprah can do what she wants with it, including only selecting books by male authors. But her show reaches an estimated 44 million people a week. Shouldn’t that come with some responsibility?

Ron Hogan at Beatrice.com argues that Oprah’s influence will have a lasting effect for years to come because of the larger context. Namely, what happens when you select contemporary authors and put them next to the greats?

By juxtaposing contemporary novelists like Cormac McCarthy, David Wroblewski, and Jonathan Franzen with canonical authors like Faulkner, Tolstoy, and Dickens, I would suggest the Oprah Book Club is putting forth an argument about a literary continuum—saying, in essence, these people writing today are as vital to the tradition of the novel as those acknowledged masters. And, for the last six years, not one woman writer has been deemed worthy of placement within that continuum.

Some viewers are similarly disappointed.

“Well, I guess in Oprah’s case, I am disappointed partly because of her position as such a powerful woman,” says Maisha Johnson, a black queer writer and activist in San Francisco who tipped us to this story. And as a writer she realizes she shouldn’t wait for anyone to put her on a list. “You make your own way to the stage, or you create your own stage, or you challenge what we all know of what a stage is and who can stand on it” she says.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve got any suggestions for Oprah.

The following is a list of Oprah’s selections linked to more information via Wikipedia.


Date Title Author
1996
September
The Deep End of the Ocean
Jacquelyn Mitchard
October Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
November The Book of Ruth Jane Hamilton
December She’s Come Undone Wally Lamb
1997
February Stones from the River Ursula Hegi
April The Rapture of Canaan Sheri Reynolds
May The Heart of a Woman Maya Angelou
June Songs In Ordinary Time Mary McGarry Morris
September The Meanest Thing To Say Bill Cosby
September A Lesson Before Dying Ernest J. Gaines
October A Virtuous Woman Kaye Gibbons
October Ellen Foster Kaye Gibbons
December The Treasure Hunt Bill Cosby
December The Best Way to Play Bill Cosby
1998
January Paradise Toni Morrison
March Here on Earth Alice Hoffman
April Black and Blue Anna Quindlen
May Breath, Eyes, Memory Edwidge Danticat
June I Know This Much Is True Wally Lamb
September What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day Pearl Cleage
October Midwives Chris Bohjalian
December Where the Heart Is Billie Letts
1999
January Jewel Bret Lott
February The Reader Bernhard Schlink
March The Pilot’s Wife Anita Shreve
May White Oleander Janet Fitch
June Mother of Pearl Melinda Haynes
September Tara Road Maeve Binchy
Oct River, Cross My Heart Breena Clarke
November Vinegar Hill A. Manette Ansay
December A Map of the World Jane Hamilton
2000
January Gap Creek Robert Morgan
February Daughter of Fortune Isabel Allende
March Back Roads Tawni O’Dell
April The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
May While I Was Gone Sue Miller
June The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
August Open House Elizabeth Berg
September Drowning Ruth Christina Schwarz
November House of Sand and Fog Andre Dubus III
2001
January We Were the Mulvaneys Joyce Carol Oates
March Icy Sparks Gwyn Hyman Rubio
May Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail Malika Oufkir
June Cane River Lalita Tademy
September The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
November A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
2002
January Fall on Your Knees Ann-Marie MacDonald
April Sula Toni Morrison
2003
June East of Eden John Steinbeck
September Cry, The Beloved Country Alan Paton
2004
January One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
April The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
May Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
September The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck
2005
June The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August William Faulkner
September A Million Little Pieces James Frey
2006
January Night Elie Wiesel
2007
January The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography Sidney Poitier
March The Road Cormac McCarthy
June Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides
October Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez
November The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett
2008
January A New Earth Eckhart Tolle
September The Story of Edgar Sawtelle[17] David Wroblewski
2009
September Say You’re One of Them Uwem Akpan
2010
September Freedom Jonathan Franzen
December Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

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