By Ted Genoways
May 5th, 2008
VQR wishes to apologize to any writers who took offense to our recent blog entries, in which we made public anonymized snippets from internal correspondence regarding our submissions. It seems obvious—and is regrettable—that some writers got the idea that VQR delights in belittling unsolicited submissions. Nothing could be further from the truth. This publication—and, indeed, its long-standing reputation—is built on a tradition of finding fine work by new writers amid the slush pile. Over the decades, this journal has been able to claim first publications by writers like Nadine Gordimer, Adrienne Rich, and Hayden Carruth—writers then wholly unknown and submitting over the transom. Since I took over as editor in 2003, I have worked hard to continue that tradition. We published the very first works of Pauline W. Chen and Martin Preib, both of whom went on to receive National Magazine Award nominations for their contributions. Many of the writers now in our regular stable began their association with VQR through blind submission—J. Malcom Garcia, Daniel Alarcón, James P. Othmer, Joshua Poteat, David J. Morris, Nicholas Schmidle, Neil Shea, Alessandra Lynch, Patricia Lockwood, and Glen Retief. Garcia and I still haven’t met—though his work has now appeared in VQR a half dozen times and will be included in next year’s Best American Travel Writing and Best American Nonrequired Reading.
In short, the tone of our blog post did not correctly represent our commitment to our authors. This is a disservice to our submitters, our readers, and our goals. 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. Too much of what we see these days strikes us as merely competent—well-crafted but passionless in its execution or, just as often, passionate only about the minor travails of the world of its author. No editor nor writer feels more strongly about the possibility of finding the universal in the small, but we also ravenously crave great writing that takes on big issues. Gutsy, fearless, hard-nosed writing. Writing that matters. Its absence makes us ill-tempered; it makes us question our enterprise. We work hard and want to see evidence of equal effort from writers. Such discussions, however, should be undertaken more thoughtfully than we have done thus far on the blog. I hope personally to rectify that situation and soon. Some writers have demanded to know why we have grown to feel such frustration toward our submitters. It’s a question worthy of a thoughtful answer—and will likely be as controversial as anything Waldo has said. But at least the discussion will center on what we consider the shortcomings of American writing, not a few comments meant to be private expressions of disappointment and frustration.
For now, suffice to say that we have certain things that we want so fiercely from American literature that we have made a misstep. We have descended in our discourse, when it is our stated mission to elevate the level of discussion whenever possible. That said, thoughtful articulation of what we envision—our call to arms, our mini-manifesto—will take a while to draft. We hope your interest in this subject is more than fleeting and deeper than personal indignation. We hope that you, too, care about what ails American literature and will have the patience to wait for our more considered statement and engage in an extended, productive discussion.
In the meantime, we have removed the potentially offending portions of the blog post, leaving our own impeachable statements but striking anything that might be construed as hurtful.