Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

November 28th, 2013

Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) is now celebrated for his role as a ground-breaking science fiction editor and publisher. At Ace Books, he launched the Ace Doubles series, and in 1972 he founded his own firm DAW Books, which took its name from his initials.  Wollheim also wrote books of his own, including several under the nom-de-plume David Grinnell.  However, like most writers, he also faced his fair share of rejection.  These form rejection letters from the periodical Wonder Stories offer a fascinating glimpse not only of the young Wollheim’s persistence, but of Science Fiction in the age of pulps.

 

Image of Wonder Stories' form rejection letter for Wollheim's "The Second Moon", [1933] Image of Wonder Stories' form rejection letter for Wollheim's "The Discovery of the Martians", [1933].
Image of Wonder Stories' form rejection letter for Donald A. Wollheim's "Saknarth," November 28, 1933. Image of Wonder Stories' form rejection letter for Donald A. Wollheim's "The Land of Black Flames," December 15, 1933.

“Insufficient Science!”: Form rejection letters from the managing editor of Wonder Stories, Charles D. Hornig, to
Donald A. Wollheim, circa 1933, for “The Second Moon,” “The Discovery of the Martians,” “Saknarth,” and
“The Land of Black Flames.” Donald A. Wollheim Papers. Call Number: MS 250, Box 4, Folder 8.
Click images to enlarge and read.

Wonder Stories‘  managing editor, Charles D. Hornig, had only to circle or underline one or more of a set list of common faults to reject a submission.  Stories might be dismissed for the following flaws:

  • No Scientific Background
  • Insufficient Science
  • Science is Illogical and Incorrect
  • Too Much Science (you should eliminate all but the general scientific ideas)
  • Not Enough Story
  • Not Enough Action and Adventure
  • Story Moves Too Slowly
  • Too Long, Story Must Be Cut
  • Not Enough Strangeness and Mystery (The scenes are too commonplace)
  • Characters Are Not Lifelike or Human
  • Idea Too Hackneyed–Not Original Enough
  • Too Much Love Interest
  • Manuscript Incorrectly Prepared
  • Other

In the four form rejection letters in Wollheim’s papers, the young writer was regularly dinged for failures of science, as in the rejection for his story “Saknarth,” dated exactly 80 years ago today (November 28, 1933). Interestingly, the rejection for Wollheim’s “The Second Moon” required a hand-alteration of the form–the story suffering from being “too short” rather than the more common flaw of being “too long” (see below).

Detail from Wonder Stories' form rejection letter for Donald A. Wollheim's Story "The Second Moon,"  [ca. 1933]

Detail from Wonder Stories‘ form rejection letter for Wollheim’s “The Second Moon.” Donald A. Wollheim Papers. Call Number: MS 250, Box 4, Folder 8.

Would it have discouraged or further inspired the nineteen-year-old Wollheim to learn that these rejections came from an editor two years his junior? Hornig of Wonder Stories was indeed himself a “Wunderkind” — just seventeen in 1933 when he began editing the magazine that SF pioneer Hugo Gernsback had founded. In addition to the form rejections, Wollheim also earned several more personalized “no”s. In October of 1933, Hornig hailed Wollheim’s “Trans-Uranus” as “very interesting and unique in its theme,” but rejected it for its scientific failings. “The ship, traveling through the planet at the speed in the story,” the precocious Hornig explained, “would be volatilized instantly, and as the Moon-men had a bodily temperature of almost absolute zero, they would melt even sooner. As this is the redeeming factor in the story, and is incorrect, it ruins the tale entirely.”

Wollheim’s efforts did, ultimately, pay off as he succeeded in publishing his first story, “The Man From Ariel,” in the January 1934 issue of the magazine (though perhaps “pay off” is the wrong phrase since Gernsback, Wonder Storiesowner, failed to pay him until Wollheim and several fellow writers threatened to sue).

By 1940, Wollheim was himself an editor–of Stirring Science Stories–and aspiring writers were turning to him. He never did quite escape that criticism of scientific error, as his papers show. When a twenty-year-old Isaac Asimov wrote to Wollheim on December 18, 1940, to congratulate him on the first issue of Stirring Science Stories, he also couldn’t resist pointing out “a few flaws in science” in two of the issue’s tales, “Bones” and “Strange Return.” Asimov playfully concedes that such nitpicking from fans must be an editor’s pet peeve, but quips “That’s all right. Right now, I feel sore at editors (yes, you guessed it, I got me a rejection today).”

It does offer some solace to the rest of us that “The Greats” must survive rejection too!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Representing the Countess: Constance Markievicz in the Poetry of Eva Gore-Booth & W. B. Yeats

April 25th, 2013

This week’s post comes from undergraduate public services student Meaghan Moody, who during this last week of National Poetry Month examines poetic depictions of Irish nationalist Countess Constance Markievicz.

On Monday, April 24th, 1916, Irish nationalists seized strategic infrastructure in Dublin to expel the British and establish an independent Irish Republic. Among these insurgents was Constance Markievicz (1868-1927), who served as second in command under Michael Mallin of the Citizen Army force in St. Stephen’s Green.  Markievicz was sentenced to death for her involvement in what became known as the “Easter Rising,” but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison based solely upon her sex. Markievicz is remembered and celebrated for her fearlessness, her intrepid nature, and her radical military dress. In the image below, you can see her in her full military regalia.

Image of Constance Markievicz excized from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917.

“A Rebel Leader” (Constance Markievicz) [image excised from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917]. Call Number: O’Hegarty Q38.

While conducting research for my English 530 course, Irish Renaissance Literature, I came across two strikingly similar depictions of the Countess by two Irish writers with diverging political beliefs. W.B. Yeats, a cultural nationalist, and Eva Gore-Booth, a pacifist suffragist and Constance’s sister, both fundamentally condemned the Rising and its resulting violence. They both also depict Markievicz and her subsequent imprisonment in their poetry.

W.B. Yeats knew Markievicz in her youth. He preferred his memory of her innocent beauty and rejected her involvement in politics.

Cover of  Yeat's Michael Robartes and the Dancer  Image of Yeats's poem "On A Political Prisoner"

Cover and “On A Political Prisoner” from W. B. Yeats’s Michael Robartes and the Dancer. Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1920. Call Number: Yeats Y45. Click images to enlarge.

Eva Gore-Booth, too, disapproved of her sister’s involvement, but, unlike Yeats, depicted Constance as an ethereal, spiritual being, as seen in this poem that she sent the imprisoned Constance for Christmas.

Image of Cover of Eva f Gore-Booth's Broken Glory  Image of Eva Gore-Booth's poem "To Constance--In Prison"

Cover and “To Constance–In Prison” from Eva Gore-Booth’s Broken Glory. Dublin; London: Maunsel, 1918. Call Number: B11104. Click images to enlarge.

In her prison letters, Markievicz reflected on herself as a poetical inspiration, remarking, “I love being in poetry and feel so important!”

Though she recognized her sister’s aversion to violence, Markievicz took pride in the role she played in the Easter Rising and felt a sense of honor in her subsequent incarceration. She wrote to Eva, “Don’t worry about me. I am quite happy. It is in nobody’s power to make me unhappy. I am not afraid, either of the future or of myself.”

Meaghan Moody
Public Services Student Assistant

Source consulted: Weihman, Lisa. “Doing My Bit for Ireland: Transgressing Gender in the Easter Rising.”  Éire-Ireland 39.3&4 (2004) 228-249.

Celebrating Ronald Johnson and Poetry In Kansas

April 12th, 2013

April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of this KU Libraries will host an event celebrating Ronald Johnson and poetry in Kansas at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library on Tuesday, April 16.

Revered as a poet’s poet, Ronald Johnson (1935-1998) was born and raised in Ashland, Kansas. Though he spent much of his literary career away from Kansas, first on the East Coast and then in San Francisco (where he lived for over two decades), his literary papers have long acted as a physical tie to his birth state.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library acquired its first cache of the poet’s papers in April of 1969. By this time, Johnson had already published his early collections A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees (1964) and The Book of the Green Man (1967), but was still building his reputation as a poet. Subsequent major installments followed in 1971 and 1987, culminating with a final acquisition of papers from Johnson’s literary estate in March of this year (2013).

Photograph of a selection of book and manuscript holdings for Ronald Johnson

The papers are a magnificent record of Johnson’s life and literary endeavors. They include,

  • multiple drafts of his poetic works, such as his erasure poem Radi os (a re-writing of sections of Milton’s Paradise Lost by excision), and ARK, a long poem composed over twenty years (which will be republished by Flood Editions later this year)
  • drafts and prototypes for his concrete poetry (poetry which emphasizes and plays upon the visual element)
  • correspondence with friends, loved ones, and literary peers, such as writer Guy Davenport, a great champion and admirer of Johnson’s writing; Jonathan Williams, Jargon Society publisher, poet, and former love; and fellow poets such as Ian Hamilton Finlay, Louis Zukofsky, Mary Ellen Solt, and Robert Creeley.
  • materials documenting Johnson’s “other” career as a chef, caterer, and cookbook writer, including drafts of his popular cookbooks, such as The American Table and The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking, and (in the most recent accession) correspondence with food writer M. F. K. Fisher
  • research notes and writing journals
  • photographs and audio recordings of Johnson

One of the highlights of the new acquisition are drafts of Johnson’s The Shrubberies, poems which he composed upon returning to Kansas from San Francisco.  These were collected, edited, and posthumously published by his friend and literary executor, poet Peter O’Leary.  The poems were inspired in part by Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, where Johnson had worked before succumbing to brain cancer and where a plaque now stands in his honor.

Though the materials that arrived in March are not yet cataloged, an online guide exists for the twenty-nine boxes of Johnson’s earlier papers.  The library also houses a large number of Johnson’s published works, many of which exist in scarce and limited editions. These materials complement Spencer’s New American Poetry holdings and its wealth of materials for Kansas writers.

The celebration on April 16 will feature three Kansas poets renowned in their own right: Joseph Harrington and Kenneth Irby, Professors in KU’s Department of English, and Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate, 2007-2009.  These speakers will fête Johnson by reading favorite passages from his works alongside poems of their own.  A selection of materials from the library’s Ronald Johnson holdings will be on display during the event.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian