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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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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