Dispatches | September 15, 2007

The closing essay in the September 9 New York Times Book Review, by David Oshinsky, a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian from the University of Texas-Austin, lets Times readers in on the not widely known fact that Alfred A. Knopf once rejected Lolita–along with other well-known works by literary giants: Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, and James Baldwin. The essay,”No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov,” takes as its subject the archived reader’s reports from Alfred A. Knopf that are housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at UT-Austin.

But we actually published the Knopf readers’ reports urging rejection of all these major writers.  And we did it seven years ago.

Reading the essay was a bit of deja-vu, and it made me briefly proud to reflect that every so often a “little” magazine like TMR, with a minimal staff and strained budget, can “scoop” a major newspaper like The New York Times.

I’m talking about our winter, 2000 issue, which featured excerpts of classic rejections from the Knopf files, along with Knopf readers’ (Judith Jones, for instance, and Blanche Knopf herself) comments on the writers mentioned above, along with such other name authors as Peter Mathiessen, Italo Calvino, Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea), John Barth (Giles Goat Boy).  And more.   Our popular Knopf files feature included a sidebar interview with Knopf editor Ashbel Green that shed light on both the reports we published and the challenges and rewards of commercial book publishing.

I enjoyed Oshinksy’s essay, which provided intelligent commentary on, among other things, great books of history that Knopf had once passed on, as well as rejections “then” and now.  However I couldn’t help but reflect that our feature, with the verbatim reports, close facsimiles of the original manuscript records, concise and helpful footnotes and an engaging interview with Green, was bigger and better.

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