Flavorwire dug up an eleven year-old Missouri Review article on rejection letters from the Knopf archives to bring the Internets a fascinating sampling of some of the "harshest" letters ever doled out to some of the most famous writers of the 20th century. Nabokov, Vonnegut, Stein: talk to the proverbial hand. According to the editors at Knopf, Sylvia Plath didn't have "enough genuine talent" for them to "take notice." To know that even Kerouac felt his heart flutter momentarily, then sink at the sight of a painfully thin, neatly labeled envelope in his mailbox gives us hope that we can weather these mechanical unfortunatelys and best-of-lucks and can find a place for our Lolita, On the Road, or Slaughterhouse Five.
A great balm for the lowly, struggling writer, Rejection Porn has become something of its own genre in the age of automated Submishmash responses, quick email disses, and radical oversharing. Earlier this year, in a manic and somewhat bold act of confession, the great Blake Butler of HTMLGiant posted a jaw-droppingly long and organized list of his submissions to online and offline magazines and literary journals over the course of a few years. I remember reading that list and thinking (a) I don't keep nearly as good track of my submissions as Blake Butler; (b) I don't really need to keep as good track of my submissions as Blake Butler because I don't submit anywhere near as frequently; but most of all (c) I remember there was a vaguely dirty, voyeuristic, porny feeling that tickled through me as I perused the exhaustive list of rejections. What was that feeling? Was it vicarious humiliation? Or schadenfreude? Or shame that I would never be as brave?
I had a good friend who, when he was submitting his novel to agents, would magnet his rejections to the fridge like they were good report cards. I remember being somewhat horrified by this, by the scrupulous accumulation of rejections. I could never do this because looking at the letters would only remind me of the familiar split second of bottomless grief ("I'm going to die a failure, alone, unknown") that I felt upon opening the envelope.
But now I'm curious about how some of these luminaries, these Plaths and Le Guins, actually dealt with the first moments of rejection. What did their faces do? Yes, it's very nice and ironic that Vonnegut, or perhaps his heirs (it's unclear in the Flavorwire post), went as far as mounting one of his early disses from the Atlantic Monthly. But what did his heart do when he opened that letter? What thoughts went through his mind? What goes through yours?