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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Gertrude Stein Read Works Inspired by Matisse, Picas­so, and T.S. Eliot (1934)

Gertrude Stein Recites ‘If I Told Him: A Com­plet­ed Por­trait of Picas­so’

The Dead Authors Pod­cast: H.G. Wells Com­i­cal­ly Revives Lit­er­ary Greats with His Time Machine

James Joyce in Paris: “Deal With Him, Hem­ing­way!”

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Comments (14)
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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.

  • Victoria Hunter says:

    Gertrude use repeat­ed words when it was nec­es­sary and she did­n’t use it in all her word. Rep­e­ti­tion is a poet­ry devices. If she is wrong for doing that, so is edgar allen poe. He uses “nev­er­more” repeat­ed­ly in his poems. Gertrude Stien said in one of her poems “the sweet sweet sweet sweet tea” I have drank tea that was so sweet, that is all I could say about it. So I found that line so amaz­ing and so true. the expres­sion your face would make say­ing sweet all those times tru­ly lives up to the feel­ing of the sweet­ness. poet­ry is also phys­i­cal. She want­ed the read­er to expe­ri­ence what she did phys­i­cal­ly.

    I am a dis­tinc­tive (more dis­tin­guished) poet. My men­tor (a renowned poet) says my work is real­ly good and dis­tinc­tive. I have a very spe­cif­ic approach to my poems that is just not common.I do not approach writ­ing about peo­ple or places, like most poets do.
    I do not like to write wide (mean­ing cov­er much stack­ing alot of words).
    So far, 3 poets includ­ing two man­agers of a press and two fes­ti­val have clas­si­fied me as dis­tin­guished. For ever rule I break in poet­ry, like using abstracts or rep­e­ti­tion I can give a clear expla­na­tion why I did and why it works.
    If you put my work along many oth­er poets work, you would def­i­nite­ly know my work. So I know how Gertrude feels and Hem­ing­way.

    A pub­lish­er should keep a cer­tain amount of com­pas­sion and respect for the writ­ers, even dur­ing the rejec­tion. They should avoid com­ing off like they are com­plete­ly dis­re­gard see­ing any qual­i­ty in the work. I am hap­py to receive any feed­back from the pub­lish­er on what works and don’t even if they don’t pub­lish it, but to make fun a writer style is tack and shows the pub­lish­er has ego prob­lems.

    Recent­ly I was­n’t cho­sen in a con­test but I believe I almost was due to the let­ter I received. It think maybe one of the judges pre­ferred the more wordy type poet­ry, how­ev­er, a judge and sub­mis­sion edi­tor wrote me and said “the world needs poets like you. we hope you will sub­mit for future con­test” that was the high­est com­pli­ment I ever got from a con­test judge. Some rejec­tion let­ters come with the moti­va­tion that you need.

  • John McIlveen says:

    Sunk sunk, five days after the Titanc sank. Stunk stank, just like a skunk it stank, when she and it sank.

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