By Anna Chacon
The recent controversy between Chidera Eggerue and Florence Given has been branded as a ‘battle’ and ‘drama’ in the literary world. Such claims imply that the dispute is a transitory and isolated incident, as evidenced by the ongoing lack of reportage following the initial ‘woke’ moment of coverage of Eggerue’s accusations against Given. Yet such dismissive and dramatizing language employed by this reporting undermines the pervasiveness of the issue which Eggerue has become the latest victim of.
Dismissive and dramatizing language … undermines the pervasiveness of the issue which Eggerue has become the latest victim of.
Late last year Eggerue accused Given of copying the ‘sentiments and style of delivery’ of her 2018 book What a Time to be Alone, including bold typefaces, extravagant colours, micro-essays and cover style. Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty has risen to cult status since its initial release in June last year, occupying the Instagram pages and bookshelves of millions of women. Yet this initial wave of commercial success has been underscored by an insidious process that Eggerue has brought to light. Eggerue’s accusations of gentrification, and subsequent exponentially increased popularity, of her content has sparked, if not continued, a vital discussion which can be summarised by an anonymously posed question: ‘why do you need to find a cultural example within your own context that makes you feel comfortable?’.
Yet this initial wave of commercial success has been underscored by an insidious process
Anxieties expressed by Eggerue signify the typecasting she experiences as a black woman, claiming to have feared speaking out against Given due to the ‘pressure of coming across as a tyrant’ in a cultural context that demands the ‘charade of being amicable and neutral’ against the paradigm of the ‘angry black woman’. Such a prototype was seemingly enforced by Florence in her statement of response, claiming that the situation required ‘a response and not a reaction’. Yet in ubiquitously labelling Eggergue’s response as reactionary, Florence enforces a narrative that her publicly mediated self-identity, career, and book seek to dismantle.
The plagiarism which Eggerue accuses Given of is just part of the disquieting debate to be had here. Bookshops have placed Given’s book at the forefront whilst, in some cases, leaving Eggerue’s copies in the warehouse. Moreover, a Google search for ‘Chidera Eggerue’ will produce promoted results which place Given’s book directly alongside Eggerue’s. This is a result of a marketing strategy in which advertisement space is purchased under Eggerue’s name as a way of generating a sale from a customer by converting them to an alternative product. But is this process just, when considered in the wider racial debate being had here? Eggerue has labelled it as a ‘violent’ example of modern-day ‘colonisation’. The ability to purchase space under a marginalised woman’s work in this way appears uncontroversially problematic.
This practice alludes to a wider societal issue, one that has become increasingly ‘popularised’ during waves of ‘wokeness’ but rarely receives sustained reportage, support, and discussion.
Florence’s claim that her publisher pitched her the style of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty alludes to the publishing practice of ‘comping’. A report on diversity in publishing by Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente describes the practice as ‘comparing books to others that are deemed similar in order to predict audiences and sales,’ a process which can ‘privilege books that repeat certain patterns and established authors,’ thus inflicting silence on new voices. This ubiquitously ‘creative act’ has the effect of ‘forcing a white comparison’ in the case of Eggerue and Given, and doubtless many others. An article in The Independent epitomises the lack of awareness around this issue, questioning ‘why do many feminist influencer books look so similar?’. The author attributes the similarity solely to the trend of accessible feminist literature and fails to substantially recognise the damaging nature of the gentrification of Eggerue’s work. The constraining nature of this practice alludes to a wider societal issue, one that has become increasingly ‘popularised’ during waves of ‘wokeness’ but rarely receives sustained reportage, support, and discussion.
Florence’s claim that ‘we absolutely should be critiquing the systems that prioritise and catapult women’s work, even when you search for a Black author’s name’ signifies that, though being complicit in the issue, she is hardly the source of it. Work towards its resolution entails a process of evaluation and critique of the socio-cultural, political, and economic institutions that catapulted Given’s work into the limelight at the expense of Eggerue’s.