Chick lit was a term widely used in the 1990s and early 2000s to describe popular fiction targeted at younger women. Though still in common usage, the term's popularity has declined since the late 2000s: it has fallen out of fashion with publishers while writers and critics have rejected its inherent sexism.
Novels identified as chick lit typically address issues of contemporary womanhood— particularly romantic relationships, female friendships and workplace struggles —in humorous and lighthearted ways. Chick lit's protagonists tended to be heterosexual women in their late twenties and early thirties, living in metropolitan areas.The format developed through the early 1990s on both sides of the Atlantic with books such as Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale (1992, USA) and Catherine Alliott's The Old Girl Network (1994, UK). Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (1996, UK) was wildly popular globally is the "ur text" of chick lit, while Candace Bushnell's (USA) 1997 novel Sex and the City has huge ongoing cultural influence. By the late 1990s, chick lit titles were regularly topping bestseller lists and many imprints were created devoted entirely to chick lit. By the mid 2000s commentators were noting that the market for chick lit was increasingly saturated, and by the early 2010s publishers had largely abandoned the category. The term "chick lit" maintains an afterlife as a popular category for readers and amateur writers on the Internet.
Origins of the term
The term chick lit was defined before it was coined: the Los Angeles Times critic Carolyn See wrote in 1992, reviewing "Waiting to Exhale," "McMillan’s new work is part of another genre entirely, so new it doesn’t really have a name yet. This genre has to do with women, triumph, revenge, comradeship..."
Chick is American slang for a young woman, and lit is a shortened form of the word literature. There was probably no single origin of the term: Princeton University students were reported in 1988 to use chick lit' as slang for a course on women's writing, and in the UK, Oxford Dictionary report that the term arose as a "flippant counterpart" to the term 'lad lit.'. The parallel term used for movies, chick flick, enjoyed slightly earlier uptake (chick flick is said to have been coined in the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle). In what was probably one of its first major outings, the term 'chick lit' was deployed ironically: a 1995 anthology edited by Cris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell entitled Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction contained 22 short fiction pieces in response to Mazza and DeShell's call for "postfeminist writing".
In the early years there was some variation on the exact term used: in 2000 the Sydney Morning Herald reported the birth of a "publishing phenomenon" which can be called "chick fiction."
At the peak of the term's popularity a slew of related sub-genres were proposed with similar names: sistah lit (targeted at black readers),chick lit jr (for young readers), mommy lit, chick lit in corsets (historical fiction, and a term only found in one academic paper). The relationship with the term lad lit is more complicated, lad lit arose before or in parallel with chick lit (see lad lit). Of these parallel terms mommy lit and lad lit are the only terms to have enjoyed any significant uptake - and that a tiny fraction of the use of the main term chick lit.
Writers and Critics
Controversy over "chick lit" focused at first on the literary value of books identified or promoted as part of the genre. Over time, controversy has focused more on the term itself, and whether the concept of a "chick lit" genre is inherently sexist.
In 1998, Reviewer Alex Kuczynski, writing for The New York Times, condemned Fielding's novel in particular, writing: "Bridget is such a sorry spectacle, wallowing in her man-crazed helplessness, that her foolishness cannot be excused." In 2001, writer Doris Lessing deemed the genre "instantly forgettable" while Beryl Bainbridge called the genre "a froth sort of thing". Chick-lit author Jenny Colgan immediately fired back at Lessing and Bainbridge, explaining why, for a new generation of women, chick lit was an important development:
"We really are the first generation who have grown up with education as a right; with financial independence; with living on our own and having far too many choices about getting married (while watching our baby boomer parents fall apart), having children (while watching our elder sisters run themselves ragged trying to do everything), and hauling ourselves up through the glass ceiling.
Who reflects this? Growing up in the 1980s all we had to read if we wanted commercial fiction, were thick, shiny, brick novels covered in gold foil, in which women with long blonde hair built up business empires from harsh beginnings using only their extraordinary beauty and occasionally some goldfish...
..With BJD, for the first time, here we were. The first time I read it, it was an absolute revelation to see my life and confusion reflected in print.."— Jenny Colgan, "We Know the Difference Between Foie Gras and Hula Hoops, Beryl, but Sometimes We Just Want Hula Hoops", The Guardian (24 Aug 2001)
In 2005, debate continued with the publication of editor Elizabeth Merrick's anthology of women's fiction, This Is Not Chick Lit (2005), where Merrick argued in her introduction that "Chick lit's formula numbs our senses." In response, self-identifying chick-lit author Lauren Baratz-Logsted published her own anthology of stories This Is Chick Lit whose project was "born out of anger" and aimed to prove that chick lit was not all "Manolos and cosmos, and cookie-cutter books about women juggling relationships and careers in the new millennium," but rather that the genre deals with "friendship and laughter, love and death - i.e. the stuff of life."
In 2007, Diane Shipley came to the genre's defence, arguing that chick lit books increasingly covered serious topics but, anyway, "I just don't see what's morally or intellectually wrong with reading a book you enjoy and relate to, that might not draw deep conclusions about the future of humanity but might cheer you up after a bad day, or see you through your own health problems."
However, in general through the late 2000s and 2010s writers of women's popular fiction increasingly distanced themselves from the chick lit term, while continuing to defend the cultural value of their writing. For example, in a 2010 Guardian article, humor writer DJ Connell leads with changing her writing name from Diane to DJ to avoid the chick lit label.Marian Keyes (writer of several massively successful novels that had been often classified as chick lit) was asked in 2014 how she feels about the term. Keyes said,
"It’s meant to be belittling. It’s as if it’s saying, 'Oh you silly girls, with your pinkness and shoes, how will you ever run the world?' But as I’ve matured (haha) I’ve realised that I'm very proud of what I write about and I know that the books I write bring happiness and comfort to people"— Marian Keyes quoted in Chatelaine Magazine Article by Laurie Grassi, "Marian Keyes on her new book, sex scenes and the term chick lit", Chatelaine.com (4 Nov 2014)
. At an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August 2020, Keyes rejected the term chick lit as dismissive and sexist, as men writing similar fiction are not described as "dick lit". Similarly, Author Kim Gruenenfelder refused to continue labelling her books as "chick lit", seeing the phrase as dismissive of books written by women and largely directed at female audiences. She instead calls her books "rom-com", after the film genre of romantic comedy.
In 2000, Sydney Morning Herald described the "publishing phenomenon" of what it called "chicfic" as "all unified by subject-matter, packaging and marketing", with "candy-bright, heavy in pink and fluorescen[t]" covers, and "candy-bright" titles, "hinting at easy digestion and a good laugh.. Such books are positioned in a marketplace as hybrids of the magazine article, fictional or fictionalised, television...and comfort food digestible over a single' night at home."
Through the 2000s publishers continue to push the subgenre because sales continue to be high. In 2003 Publishers Weekly reported on numerous new Chick Lit imprints, such as "Kensington's Strapless, which launched in April 2003 and has one book a month scheduled through the end of 2004. Kensington editorial director John Scognamiglio explained that the imprint was created in response to requests from salespeople for a chick lit brand." Nonetheless, the same Publishers Weekly article was already looking back enviously at the massive sales achieved by Bridget Jones's Diary in 1998 and commenting on the challenges for chick lit publishers in a now overcrowded market. Already, Publishers Weekly suggested, Chick Lit was - if not in decline - at least at a turning point.
By 2012 news sources were reporting the death of chick lit. Salon.com reported that, "Because chick lit (whatever it is -- or was) provoked so many ideologically fraught arguments about the values placed on women's vs. men's tastes, high- vs. lowbrow culture, comedy vs. drama and so on, it's tempting to read particular significance into its decline," but went on to argue that the decline was due to a normal process of changing fashion and taste in genre fiction.
Chick Lit Globally
Though chick lit originated in the UK and US, it rapidaly became a global publishing phenomenon - and indeed may have been one of the first truly global publishing trend.
In India, Rajashree's Trust Me was the biggest-selling Indian chick lit novel. The popularity of novels like Trust Me, Swati Kaushal's Piece of Cake  can be seen in the context of the rise of regional varieties of chick-lit. In an interview to the New York Times, Helen Fielding said, 'I think it had far more to do with zeitgeist than imitation.' If the chick lit explosion has 'led to great new female writers emerging from Eastern Europe and India, then it's worth any number of feeble bandwagon jumpers.' Sunaina Kumar wrote in the Indian Express, 'Ten years after the publication of Bridget Jones's Diary, the genre of fiction most recognisable for its pink cover art of stilettos, martini glasses and lipsticks, is now being colourfully infused with bindis, saris, and bangles. ' Sometimes referred to as 'ladki-lit', Indian chick-lit seems to be coming of age. The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan is another chik lit novel which has got commendable praise.
- ""Google Books Ngram Viewer"". Retrieved 6 January 2022.
- "In the Classroom or In the Bedroom" Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine Review of Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction.
- Rebecca Vnuk (15 July 2005). "Collection Development 'Chick Lit': Hip Lit for Hip Chicks". Libraryjournal.com. Archived from the original on 1 December 2010. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
- "The White Terry McMillan Centering Black Women Within Chick Lit's Genealogy". Taylor and Francis Group. 2018.
- Whelehan, Imelda (2002). Bridget Jones's Diary: A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic.
- Smith, Caroline J. (2008). Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in Chick Lit. Routledge.
- Rachel Donadio "The Chick-Lit Pandemic", The New York Times, 19 March 2006.
- See, Carolyn (22 June 1992). "BOOK REVIEW : A Novel of Women Triumph, Revenge and Comradeship : WAITING TO EXHALE". Los Angeles Times.
- Betterton, Don M. (1988). Alma Mater: Unusual Stories and Little-known Facts from America's College Campuses. Petersons Guides. p. 113. Retrieved 12 December 2021 – via Google Books.
- "Overview Chick Lit". Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Retrieved 12 December 2021 – via Oxford Reference.
The term appeared from 1996 as a flippant counterpart to the lad-lit fiction of that time.
- Mazza, Chris; Jeffrey DeShell (1995). Chick-Lit On the Edge: New Womens Fiction Anthology. FC2.
- Knox, Malcolm (14 October 2000). "A quick fling with chicfic". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Ferris; Young, eds. (2006). Chick Lit The New Woman's Fiction. Routledge. Retrieved 30 July 2021 – via Google Books.
- "Chick Lit in Historical Settings by Frida Skybäckby Helene Ehriander". jprstudies.org. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Kuczynski, Alex (14 June 1998). "Dear Diary: Get Real". New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- "Bainbridge Denounces Chick-Lit as 'Froth'". The Guardian. 22 August 2001. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Colgan, Jenny (24 August 2001). "We Know the Difference Between Foie Gras and Hula Hoops, Beryl, but Sometimes We Just Want Hula Hoops". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
- Merrick, Elizabeth (2005). This Is Not Chick Lit. Random House. pp. ix.
- Baratz-Logsted, Lauren (2006). This Is Chick Lit. Benbella. p. 1.
- Shipley, Diane (15 March 2007). "In Defence of Chick Lit". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Connell, D. J. (4 August 2010). "The chick-lit debate: who in Playboy Mansion Hell calls women chicks?". the Guardian. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Grassi, Laurie (4 November 2014). "Marian Keyes on her new book, sex scenes and the term chick lit". Chatelaine. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
- Grassi, Laurie (4 November 2014). "Marian Keyes on her new book, sex scenes and the term chick lit". Chatelaine. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
- Marian Keyes: Family Matters, 19 August 2020
- Natalie Danford (2003). "The Chick Lit Question". Publishers' Weekly.
- Olivia Barker (29 May 2008). "'Prada' nips at author Lauren Weisberger's heels". USA Today. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
Nelson says. "The definition of chick lit has expanded to include some things that are a little more accomplished and grown-up and literary than what that term used to mean.
- ""The death of chick lit"". "salon.com".
- "Write Up Their Alley"
- "Trust Me to spill beans on Bollywood", CNN-IBN, 18 February 2007.
- India's Cheeky "Chick Lit" Finds An Audience
- Asha Menon "Indian chick lit?"
- Sunaina Kumar "The Rise of Ladki-Lit", The Indian Express, 8 October 2006.
- Gill, Rosalind; Herdieckerhoff, Elena (December 2006). "Rewriting the romance: new femininities in chick lit?" (PDF). Feminist Media Studies. 6 (4): 487–504. doi:10.1080/14680770600989947. S2CID 55208553.
- Roy, Pinaki. "The Chick Factor: A Brief Survey of the Indian Chick-lit Novels", The Postcolonial Woman Question: Readings in Indian Women Novelists in English. Eds. Ray, G.N. and J. Sarkar. Kolkata: Books Way, 2011 (ISBN 978-93-80145-84-6). pp. 213–23.
- "Chick lit, for better or worse, is here to stay"
- "Collection Development 'Chick Lit': Hip Lit for Hip Chicks" Library Journal Article on the genre
- "India's Cheeky 'Chick Lit' Finds an Audience"