Famous Rejections Show Publishing’s Shortcomings


Rejection is often cited as an essential part of writing. Rejection is even celebrated, as if great works must be first overlooked and then pulled from obscurity. Consider Marlon James, 2015 Man Booker Prize winner: his first manuscript was rejected eighty times. But writers shouldn’t romanticize rejection, says Kavita Das, because it speaks to a fundamentally broken system:

This arc is the literary equivalent of the American Dream, but like the Dream itself, the romantic narrative hides a more sinister one. Focusing on how individual artists should persist in the face of rejection obscures how the system is set up to reward only a chosen few, often in a fundamentally unmeritocratic way.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →