Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)


Gertrude Stein considered herself an experimental writer and wrote what The Poetry Foundation calls "dense poems and fictions, often devoid of plot or dialogue," with the result being that "commercial publishers slighted her experimental writings and critics dismissed them as incomprehensible." Take, for example, what happened when Stein sent a manuscript to Alfred C. Fifield, a London-based publisher, and received a rejection letter mocking her prose in return. According to Letters of Note, the manuscript in question was published many years later as her modernist novel, The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress (1925). You can hear Stein reading a selection from the novel below. Also find other Gertrude Stein works in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

via Electric Literature

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  • steinfan says:

    Marty Martin’s brilliant one character play “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein” references this letter.

    The play has Gertrude sitting in her living room remembering her life. She talks about how hard it is to write and how you are afraid to show it to anyone for fear it will be rejected.

    “And although it was a rejection it was not a no no no it was a yes an unmistakable one at that is what critics refer to as style; style.”

    Thank you for sharing the actual letter, I have always wondered what he actually wrote.

  • Ava Lanche says:

    An exellent example how poetry can be inspiring! This letter – if we don’t pay attention to the author’s pettiness – is nearly a poem!

  • Jeremy David Acton says:

    I think this critic had a very good point to make to Ms Stein. I think her “Making of Americans” is a load of boring rubbish.

  • IamBullyproofMusic says:

    This particular publisher would probably have had lots of fun leaving mean comments on youtube. not just one. not only one. Just sayin’.

  • Michael Taylor says:

    That is a hilarious piece of criticism. I enjoy Stein’s reading here but jeez, I wish more literary criticism had half the wit that this piece does.

  • Chuck Vermette Sr says:

    If he really had only one life then why didn’t he write one sentence one time saying he wasn’t interested? Perhaps he/she had one narrow mind and way too much time on their hands.

  • jeff hubbard says:

    Chuck I am guessing you haven’t read Gertrude Stein. If you had you would understand the reply only too well and probably be in hysterics. He has essentially turned the tables on her, writing in her style with wonderful comedic effect. :)

  • rice says:

    i don’t find it funny. i find it pathetic. gertrude stein found her voice and wrote it. she did the best she could with what she had and it’s how her brain worked.

    i’ve read GS, and you have to, and history will. no-one remembers the editor, at least the only thing they will remember about his is the mocking letter.

    it sucks to have your work rejected, it hurts. i’m sure it hurt her as well. anyone can turn the tables on you – i can see someone turning them on hemingway or joyce. anyone with a unique style.

    it’s bad form, somewhat funny, but ultimately sad that he couldn’t even see the genius in front of his face. hope they buried him upside down and no-one visits his grave.

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