When Is an Acceptance Not an Acceptance?

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When it comes from The Paris Review, apparently.

Here’s the short version of the story–Daniel Nester fills it out a bit at WWAATD (part I, part II, part III): The Paris Review accepted a bunch of work. There was a change in the editorial staff, and the new editors decided that some of the work selected for publication wasn’t Paris Review quality, I assume. Out go the un-acceptance emails.

I’ve never written one of those emails, and I hope I never will. I’d hope that if I found myself in the position of an editor taking over a situation where there’s work in the pipeline that I’d honor the decisions of the previous editor(s), even if I disagreed with them, and I’d do it because I’m a writer first and foremost, and if an editor did that to me, I’d be looking for a way to exact some revenge. As Nester points out, The Paris Review is “an anchor store publication credit in the shopping mall of a book’s acknowledgments page, one of the first that would be mentioned in a short and essential writerly bio.” We can argue whether or not that reputation is still deserved but it’s a major publication. It’s a reputation-builder.

To have that snatched away would be painful, to say the least. Those kinds of acceptances mean way more to the writer than they do to the magazine, or the editor, and to un-accept a piece in this way strikes me as unnecessarily cruel. Rejections are a way of life for writers; we grow inured to them over time, classify them as to their coldness, learn to interpret the euphemisms editors invent to hide the severity of their no’s. This is different. This is insulting, both for the writer and the previous editor(s). And for what? So the new editor can publish, in his words, “a ‘holy shit’ poetry section for his first issue on September 15.” Seems to me Lorin Stein just made that impossible.

Update: Nester has added Part III.

Upadte II: Nester has added Part IV.


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is the Poetry Editor for The Rumpus, and teaches poetry at Drake University. More from this author →