Exhibit 9.8

So if you care about such things, VQR got themselves in trouble–at least as much as one can get oneself in trouble in the tiny little world of literary journals–by posting snarky comments their readers had made to slushpile submissions on their blog. They’ve now been removed, but take my word for it when I say the comments were petty, smug, inane (one claimed that the inclusion of a prose poem was a personal affront), and probably a more or less acurate representation of what gets said at most literary journals swamped with submissions. The difference is, most journals have the decency not to make a public spectacle of mocking their target audience with wholly unfunny faux-revulsion written by nominally qualified undergrad/graduate students.

That’s not to say the comments themselves bothered me that much. It’s not what I would allow to be written about submissions if I edited a journal–and I obviously wouldn’t make any comments public–but in my time reading for a journal I probably said worse things to other bored, frustrated readers. In that sense, I think Mr. Genoways’s couching of his apology in the journal’s frustration at inappropriate submissions is fair enough. It’s hard to read 20 short stories in a sitting and have 5 be offensive, 5 be genre work, 5 be insanely boring, and 5 just be insane.

But pretending that the frustration about the kitten poetry and wish fulfillment stories the journal receives is actually a larger frustration with American literature is just disingenuous. He writes, “However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers.” Again, it’s not my journal to run, but I find it callous to say that mocking your audience is “fair” whether or not the authors ever read it. That’s small potatoes, however, to the ultimate point of the response which seems to be that VQR and their army of undergraduate and graduate student readers are the last bastion of hope in American letters. That’s certainly overstating it, but I have a hard time believing that anything about this insensitive but very small misstep calls for a “mini-manifesto” or a dialogue about “what ails American literature.”

I like VQR. I’d probably like their staff. I hope they keep trailing the zeitgeist with issues about superheroes or robots or whatever for a very long time. I feel bad about my own smug last sentence. What I don’t like, is pretending that doing the arduous work of weeding out the 9/10 submissions that are all some level of crazy leads to frustration about the state of American literature rather than frustration over the fact that someone in prison sent in their Ninja Turtles fan fiction and there is an obligation to read it. That has nothing to do with American literature.

I read at a journal that received a large number of submissions, and in my time there I didn’t say “Yes” to single story I read. And I read a lot of stories. Probably some of the same ones that some poor soul at VQR had to read. There were some crazy ones. There were some competent but dull ones. None of it had anything to do with what “ailed” American literature and even if it did, I certainly didn’t think myself, as a graduate student, capable of being able to pinpoint the story or poem that would fix it. Which I guess is the point. If VQR is frustrated with their submissions, they should stop taking them. If they want to try to shake up literature, god bless them. I hope they do.

But those “indignant” comments weren’t trying to do that and nobody should pretend they were.

The thing Mr. Genoways doesn’t seem to get is that nobody wants the self-satisfied, juvenile writers of the mean-spirited comments to decide anything about the direction literature is headed. And, thankfully, they won’t. It’s a lot of fun to be an MFA student guarding the gate to a venerable institution, but by the time those students are submitting stories that earn curt rejections from journals, their ideas about what literature should and can be will have either changed or they’ll have stopped writing completely.

What Mr. Genoways wants in writing is out there. It may not be in every piece published by the Virginia Quarterly Review (ed note: or on my computer), but maybe he should ask himself why that is rather than fretting about the state of American letters. After all, if his readers are so prescriptive about what is good that they can’t imagine it being in the form of something like prose poetry, then VQR is fostering the problem not fighting it.

5 Comments / Posted in Journals, Turtles, Writing

Comments

  1. A. Peterson says:

    For what it’s worth, I found Mr. Genoways’s response here to be very thoughtful.

    It doesn’t really have anything to say about posting the comments–and there really isn’t anything else to say other than “oops” which has already been said–but I do very much like what he has to say about how writers should converse with journals.

    There is probably an argument to be made about how much a journal of the stature of VQR can hope to have a conversation if it really takes 14 out of 7,000 story submissions but that they try is admirable.

  2. A. Peterson says:

    Huh, apparently that link isn’t working. I’ll try again. Here.

  3. Heather says:

    The response in the above link, though more specific to the magazine’s concerns, still seemed to be, at heart, adversarial to the submitter, and totally beside the main point of the controversy.

    Whether or not the comments are sent back to the submitter is a moot point. Airing mean spirited and disrespectful comments on the internet was a misstep that I believe 99% of editors would find mortifying and totally unnaceptable. Then, to say they have a .0017 acceptance rate in the same breath he argues against simultaneous submissions is laughable!

    At that rate, if you write 6 stories a year, and send them out each 2x per year (assuming you can submit and get a response once per semester,) after five years, you would have submitted 60 stories an average of 3x each, and you would still have only a 30% chance of getting one published. I know this isn’t exactly how it works, but seriously, how high up is that pedastal?

    They say they prefer no simultaneous submissions – perhaps they should explicitly forbid it. But I can see no justification for flouting the presumed modicum of respect that exists between potential contributor and editorial staff in the way they have.

  4. Heather says:

    Oops – actually, I think it’s more: after five years, you would have submitted 30 stories an average of 9x each, and you would still have less than a 10% chance of getting one published.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Faux apology or not, Genoways’s conviction that he offers the solution to what he deems a crisis in American Lit. is smug, misguided and simply wrong. The crisis is not with literature but with cronyism shaping editorial decisions at journals, and with Genoways at the helm of his rescue mission we can only look forward to more nepotism, not less.

    Under the VQR Poetry Series imprint at the University of Georgia Press, Genoways has not only edited and published a book by his best friend but HE IS ALSO PUBLISHING HIS OWN BOOK. (See his collection forthcoming from the VQR Poetry Series at UGA Press.)

    Meanwhile he continues to call himself some kind of messiah, though to be sure one short on ethics, for literature and the Virginia Quarterly Review stands by their man as his delusions of grandeur tarnishes all that he touches.

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