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Arthur Fifield & Norman Maclean

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stein.jpgARTHUR FIFIELD
Letter to Gertrude Stein, 1912

Dear Madam,

I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your MS three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

Many thanks. I am returning the MS by registered post. Only one MS by one post.


normanmaclean.jpgNORMAN MACLEAN
Letter to an editor at Alfred A. Knopf, 1981

Dear Charles Elliott,

The dream of every rejected author must be to see, like sugarplums dancing in his head, please-can’t-we-see-your-next-manuscript letters standing in piles on his desk, all coming from publishing companies that rejected his previous manuscript, especially from the more pompous of the fatted cows grazing contentedly in the publishing field. I am sure that under the influence of those dreams some of the finest fuck-you prose in the English language has been composed, but alas, never published.

You must have known that Alfred A. Knopf turned down my first collection of stories after playing games with it, or at least the game of cat’s paw, now rolling it over and saying they were going to publish it, and then rolling it on its back when the president of the company announced it wouldn’t sell. So I can’t understand how you could ask if I’d submit my second manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf, unless you don’t know my race of people.

Whenever I receive a statement of the sales of A River Runs Through It from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, “Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.” I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.

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  • Interesting letters above.

    Posted by Don Miller on Sat 27 Nov 2010

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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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