Steve Almond wasn’t included in the New Yorker‘s “20 Under 40” issue, and he’s candid enough to know that the fact that he was too old to make the cut offers little comfort. “[T]oo often, we turn on each other,” he writes. “Particularly when a Big Daddy like the New Yorker singles out his most talented children for praise. The rest of us are left feeling we’re doomed to obscurity, that these 20 hot young thangs are going to suck up every bit of cultural oxygen that exists for fiction writers.”
Almond’s advice for getting past those petty feelings of jealousy is sensible: “Forget about the other guy. Remember who you are.” Which is nice if you’re just trying to get past being ignored by the New Yorker. If you still want to be published by the magazine, stubborn persistence is in order. Recently, at a writer’s conference in Homer, Alaska, Michael Cunningham discussed spending ten years collecting rejections from the magazine before finally breaking through, largely because the “man in charge of rejecting me” moved on. “You have to be patient enough to out-wait these people,” he said. “One day, there will be a change in staff or a change in the weather, and some magazine will buy your story.”
One thought on “Coping Strategies”
The clearest solution is to ignore such lists, which are designed to uphold an illusory power structure that don’t take into account 95% of the reading public. I’d like to see some intrepid muckraker go into the streets and quiz regular people about these twenty names. How many names would be recognized?
I think Almond reads too much into this list when he claims that the list “sends the basic message that they’ve chosen those writers who matter for the next decade.” Let’s look at the last ten years. Ten years ago, who would have anticipated DFW’s suicide, Dubya’s two terms, 9/11, the rise of Twitter and YouTube, or the near total evisceration of newspaper book review sections? It is a game of folly to prognosticate so wantonly about a cultural climate that changes faster than most writers can track. Writers will flourish by not pandering their voices to the New Yorker house style. They’ll subsist by understanding that securing a legacy is based on hard work, not on courting the plummeting gatekeepers.