Thursday, January 28, 2010

But I Am a Precious Snowflake...Really I Am

Remember when the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) somehow decided it would be funny to post on the VQR blog all of their mean inner thoughts showing a tendency to belittle the literary submissions they receive?  That was a disaster, right? And then there was a kind of  half-apology follow-up when they realized people got pissed about this behavior.  And then remember when the VQR editor, Ted Genoways, came around to say a few words at LROD and get us to read his journal?  Well, now Genoways has a piece in Mother Jones entitled "The Death of Fiction?" in which he laments the current state of literary journals.  Here's a highlight:
Back in the 1930s, magazines like the Yale Review or VQR saw maybe 500 submissions in a year; today, we receive more like 15,000. This is due partly to a shift in our culture from a society that believed in hierarchy to one that believes in a level playing field. This is good—to a point. The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer. You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it.
Basically, he blames the situation in large part on writers, but not really you, mice; Genoways only actually speaks to academic writers.  Here's what I mean:
... I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read.
This story is courtesy of our friend John Fox over at BookFox who offers his sage opinion on the matter.  It's worth a hop over there to read Fox's post.


Matisse said...

At least Genoways acknowledges the problem that zines are getting far more than they can read – yet many encourage continued submissions, and many of those with reading fees (the inglorious bastards at Narrative, for example), while at Poetry, they must surely have some secret code with their submissions that winnows away the neophyte, and at GimmerTrain the business plan sisterhood continues to reap and rake with automated reader-we-doubt responses. Genoways thinking is fallacious, and we agree with Bookfox. If in the 1930’s a review received only 500 submissions, it’s also true that in the 1930’s the average college grad was WASP and rich and what did he have to say? During the depression (not this one, dear, the real one), a WASP could enter a bank and secure a loan with a college degree; today one gets arrested for attempted robbery. So lots of things have changed. The question is, has Genoways changed? Or does he fancy himself some ivy league elitist who should correspond only with the few the brave and the mighty? If he wants to go one step further with his honesty he should say in VQR that all bets are off, no more unsolicited submissions, and here’s our list, in the interest of full disclosure, of writers we are soliciting. Don’t see your name – don’t give up your day job. Don’t have a job? That’s a horse of a different color.

The Very Minor Writer said...

I find gonaways' tone insufferable—he is so full of himself and self-congratulatory about vqr, which is a fine magazine but still, just shut up. And please don't lecture us about tackling subjects that matter: war, religion, poverty, etc. yes, we all want to write the red and the black or humboldts gift, but in a short story? maybe, maybe not. it's hard enough sometimes getting a character into the room.
but I also can't stand those who criticize gonaways by saying vqr, and other top journals, never publish any good stories. that is just sour grapes and contempt prior to investigation. the top lit mags are publishing great work, not always, but occasionally, and that is pretty much all you can ask for. elizabethan theater was pretty crap most nights, except when marlowe or bill s. had something up. and go back and look through an issue of the new yorker from 1950s, you'll be shocked at how lousy some of the writing was. the mags today are no better or worse, and no matter how much editors bemoan the quality of their submissions, they do keep reading.
I've been plucked out of the slush at a few big magazines—and I don't have an mfa. writing is a rough, rough game. we take many punches.

Steve said...

This is a strangely erotic image, my friend. Thank you for disturbing me.

The Very Minor Writer said...

sorry, it turn out styron answered this years before gonaways:

A critic nowadays will set up straw-men, saying that Mailer had Ahab in mind when he created Sergeant Croft, that Jim Jones thought of Hamlet when he came up with his bedeviled Private Prewitt, stating further, however, that neither of these young men have created figures worthy of Melville or Shakespeare; they do this, or they leap to the opposite pole and cry out that no one writing today even tries to create figures of the tragic stature of Lear. For a writer, God forbid either course. I still maintain that the times get precisely the literature that they deserve, and that if the writing of this period is gloomy the gloom is not so much inherent in the literature as in the times. The writer’s duty is to keep on writing, creating memorable Pvt. Prewitts and Sgt. Crofts, and to hell with Ahab. Perhaps the critics are right: this generation may not produce literature equal to that of any past generation—who cares? The writer will be dead before anyone can judge him—but he must go on writing, reflecting disorder, defeat, despair, should that be all he sees at the moment, but ever searching for the elusive love, joy, and hope—qualities which, as in the act of life itself, are best when they have to be struggled for, and are not commonly come by with much ease, either by a critic’s formula or by a critic’s yearning. If he does not think one way or another, that he can create literature worthy of himself and of his place, at this particular moment in history, in his society, then he’d better pawn his Underwood, or become a critic.

Justine said...

Am I the only one who gets a "Gentleman's Club" vibe from what Gonaway said? It reminds me of those who reminisce about when our "caste" system was more pronounced: when people (minorities) stayed in their place, children held their tongues and certain things could only be done by the highly privileged.