She wanted to introduce magic to muggles, but Jo was told by her publisher that as the target audience of her book were young boys, they would not connect to a female writer’s words. Thus Jo had no choice but to become J K Rowling and through this pen name, came the magically crafted Harry Potter.
Robyn Thurman was called Rob by her family and friends her entire life, never to realise that this would end up being her pen name. She was the mastermind who created the New York Times best selling series Cal Leandros. She felt that as the main protagonists of her books were predominantly male, having a female writer’s name on the cover may put off potential readers.
When George Henry Lewes – the English philosopher and critic with whom she was romantically involved – encouraged her to take up writing fiction, Mary Anne Evans took up the pseudonym George Eliot and later gave us a classic like Middlemarch.
You see a pattern?
Women folks in the past times had to give their names a gender neutral twist to cross the edge in the literary world.
But today if your bookshelf flaunts a Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawking’s The Girl on the Train, congratulations! Because you belong to the clan of readers who do not judge the book by the gender of its author/ authoress. Literary women are no longer defined by their Father or Husband.
If you observe keenly though, you will notice that the game at the edge has changed with time.
Just when you pick up a book titled Final Girls and explore this hot psychological thriller assuming that its author Riley Sager is a woman, BEHOLD! For Riley Sager is a pseudonym for an author who has been previously published under an unrevealed name i.e. Todd Ritter.
A few more players of this changing “Gender Game” are Tony Strong who writes under the pen name JD Delaney and authored the book The Girl Before and Daniel Mallory whose The Woman in the Window will make it to the market in 2018 under the pen name A.J. Finn.
Now, it is flattering to see that the times changed today in such a manner that men these days are seeking refugee under these “Gender Suspense” name to cross the line in the literary market.
While the whole visible game here is to get inside the door, earlier women did it so that their words would be taken seriously while today men are using it as a mere marketing tactic.
The game has now even crossed the border with the curious case of Yi-Fen Chou. The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve, a poetry collection made it to 2015 edition of The Best American Poetry was a creation of Yi-Fen Chou. But in reality, Yi-Fen is actually a middle-aged white man named Michael Derrick Hudson. Just as Hudson can still use whiteness to his advantage while pretending to be Chinese, so can men use their maleness to succeed behind a veil of womanhood.
Although this unpleasant need of writers to create an androgynous alter ego to cross the edge of the literary market seems unethical and ironic yet feminism feels flattered watching them fill a women’s high heeled shoe of literary fame as these female writers were not served publicity on a silver platter.