Rejection. Every writer faces it. Sylvia Plath was told, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” J. G. Ballard got, “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.” Papa’s minimalist prose and man’s man themes so offended one publisher one editor proclaimed, “In short, your efforts have saddened me, Mr. Hemingway.” Rejection can be a knife in the side of the writer, or it can be a whip that drives him. F. Scott Fitzgerald pinned one hundred and twenty-two rejection letters over his desk while he worked on This Side of Paradise.
But more interesting than the ways writers have been rejected are the ways writers reject. For Paul Beatty, the rejection is of our nation’s shameful legacy of racism. In an excerpt from his fierce satirical novel, The Sellout, Beatty sees his African American hero staring down Justice Clarence Thomas and the rest of the Supreme Court. In “Looking for Suzanne,” Chris Kraus’s rejected narrator tries to put the pieces of his enigmatic ex together, while in Claire Vaye Watkins’s “The Call,” futuristic California seems to have rejected everyone. Translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky refuse to accept that the classic translations of Russian classics are sacred, and have made a career of breathing new life into Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov, among many others. And channeling their spirit, perhaps, we embrace the opportunity to publish one of Chekhov’s previously untranslated stories, “Artists’ Wives.” Not to be outdone, even from the grave, Hemingway weighs in with a pugilistic letter, also previously unpublished.
We all know what being rejected feels like. (As a writer I have certainly suffered from the sting of rejection, and as an editor have been the one to inflict it.) So it seemed like a gift to offer a handful of writers, including Mitchell S. Jackson and Leslie Jamison, the opportunity to pen their own rejection letters. James Patterson, one of the best-selling authors of all time, addresses us all, and singles out regular Tin House contributor Stephen King, urging us to reject rejection and rally around the flag of reading. And poet Mary Ruefle has the last word, flat out rejecting Tin House. Ouch.
But you, dear readers, must know we’ll never reject you.