Chick lit or Chick literature is genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists.” The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways. At its onset, chick lit’s protagonists tended to be “single, white, heterosexual, British and American women in their late twenties and early thirties, living in metropolitan areas.” The genre became popular in the late 1990s, with chick lit titles topping bestseller lists and the creation of imprints devoted entirely to chick lit. Chick lit critics generally agree that British author Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) is the “ur-text” of chick lit.
Origins of the term
“Chick” is American slang for a young woman, and “lit” is a shortened form of literature. Chick lit scholars note that the term was first used ironically in 1995 by Cris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell as the title for their edited anthology Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction, which contains 22 short fiction pieces in response to Mazza and DeShell’s call for “postfeminist writing.” In the mid-1990s, the term was used by various media outlets to describe the onslaught of fiction written by women authors for women readers.
While chick lit has been very popular with readers, critics largely disapproved of the genre. 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.” Writer Doris Lessing deemed the genre “instantly forgettable” while Beryl Bainbridge called the genre “a froth sort of thing.” The feud was further fueled with the publication of editor Elizabeth Merrick's anthology This Is Not Chick Lit (2005), where Merrick argued in her introduction that "Chick lit's formula numbs our senses", and editor Lauren Baratz-Logsted's 2006 response This Is Chick Lit whose project was "born out of anger."
Writers of the genre have come to its defense. Chick lit author Jenny Colgan immediately fired back at Lessing and Bainbridge. Jennifer Weiner, author of numerous chick lit novels, including Good in Bed (2001) and In Her Shoes (2002), has perhaps been the most vocal defender of chick lit. In May 22, 2013, Weiner wrote an article for Slate in response to a comment that novelist Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs (2013), made about women's fiction and the likeability of protagonists. Weiner used this moment as an opportunity to question the bias that exists toward commercial fiction, particularly women’s commercial fiction. Weiner has continued to challenge people’s perceptions of chick lit, most recently writing “The Snobs and Me” for The New York Times; the article chronicles her personal struggle to believe in her own writing in a cultural climate that devalues it. Other writers such as Diane Shipley and D.J. Connell have come to the genre’s defense. Most notably, high-profile feminist Gloria Steinem has echoed Weiner’s sentiments and asked people to interrogate their use of the term and what it says about women and women’s fiction, noting the prejudice against women’s lit.
Publishers continue to push the subgenre because sales continue to be high. Various other terms have been coined as variant in attempts to attach themselves to the perceived marketability of the work. Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson suggested in 2008 that the definition of what's considered to be within the genre of chick lit has become more accomplished and "grown up".
Chick lit typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is heavily thematized in the plot. Though most often set in a contemporary world, such as in Waiting to Exhale, there is also historical chick lit. The issues dealt with are often more serious than consumerism. Marian Keyes's Watermelon, for instance, features a protagonist who wrestles with how to be a mother in a modern world. There is a growing market for religious chick lit. As with other types of genre fiction, authors and publishers target many niche markets. Protagonists vary widely in ethnicity, age, social status, marital status, career, and religion.
- Smith, Caroline J. (2008). Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in Chick Lit. Routledge.
- "In the Classroom or In the Bedroom" Review of Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction.
- Rebecca Vnuk (July 15, 2005). "Collection Development 'Chick Lit': Hip Lit for Hip Chicks". Libraryjournal.com. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- Whelehan, Imelda (2002). Bridget Jones's Diary: A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic.
- Mazza, Chris; Jeffrey DeShell (1995). Chick-Lit On the Edge: New Womens Fiction Anthology. FC2.
- Kuczynski, Alex (June 14, 1998). "Dear Diary: Get Real". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- "Bainbridge Denounces Chick-Lit as "Froth"". The Guardian. The Guardian. August 22, 2001. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Merrick, Elizabeth (2005). This Is Not Chick Lit. Random House. pp. ix.
- Baratz-Logsted, Lauren (2006). This Is Chick Lit. Benbella. p. 1.
- Colgan, Jenny (August 24, 2001). "We Know the Difference Between Foie Gras and Hula Hoops, Beryl, but Sometimes We Just Want Hula Hoops". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Mulkerrins, Jane (August 17, 2014). "Jennifer Weiner: Why I'm Waging War on Literary Snobbery". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Weiner, Jennifer (May 22, 2013). "I Like Likeable Characters". Slate. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- D'Addario, Daniel (May 24, 2013). "A Brief History of Jennifer Weiner's Literary Fights". Salon. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Weiner, Jennifer (June 10, 2016). "The Snobs and Me". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Shipley, Diane (March 15, 2007). "In Defence of Chick Lit". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Connell, D.J. (August 4, 2010). "The Chick-Lit Debate: Who in Playboy Mansion Hell Calls Women Chicks?". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- Steinem, Gloria (2014-05-08). "A Modest Proposal". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- Olivia Barker (May 29, 2008). "'Prada' nips at author Lauren Weisberger's heels". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
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.
- Gill, Rosalind; Herdieckerhoff, Elena (December 2006). "Rewriting the romance: new femininities in chick lit?". Feminist Media Studies, special issue: New Femininities. Taylor and Francis. 6 (4): 487–504. doi:10.1080/14680777.2011.537029.
- 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"