Cover Letter with Testicles

In general writers, from what I can tell, are a humble lot. They send off their manuscripts or articles knowing they will be at the mercy of some editor at the other end ready to carve it into something suitable for publication. Everything is subject to edit. (Some more than others.)

Occasionally, a writer will have an unnatural attachment to something they’ve written and to watch it subject it an editors hand is more than they can bear.

Take for instance David Foster Wallace, novelist, essayist, and professor at Pomona College. Sometime in 1998, Mister Wallace faxed an essay he did on Kafka to Harper’s Bazaar.  In the cover letter the author threatened harm of immeasurable quantity should the piece be edited. He essentially demanded the piece be run intact… or else.

Cover letter to Harper’s Bazaar – 1998:

From: David Wallace

To: Joel Lovell, Harper’s [redacted] (Office [redacted])

This is pretty much the best I can do, I think. I feel shitty sticking a lot of what you wanted in FN’s, but I didn’t see any work to work it into the main text w/o having to rewrite whole ¶s and throw the thing’s Styrofoamish weight off.

The deal is this. You’re welcome to this for READINGS if you wish. What I’d ask is that you (or Ms. Rosenbush, whom I respect but fear) not copyedit this like a freshman essay. Idiosyncracies of ital, punctuation, and syntax (“stuff,” “lightbulb” as one word, “i.e.”/”e.g.” without commas after, the colon 4 words after ellipses at the end, etc.) need to be stetted. (A big reason for this is that I want to preserve an oralish, out-loud feel to the remarks so as to protect me from people’s ire at stuff that isn’t expanded on more; for you, the big reason is that I’m not especially psyched to have this run at all, much less to take a blue-skyed 75-degree afternoon futzing with it to bring it into line with your specs, and you should feel obliged and borderline guilty, and I will find a way to harm you or cause you suffering* if you fuck with the mechanics of this piece.)

Let Me Know,

Dave Wallace

* (It may take years for the oportunity to arise. I’m very patient. Think of me as a spider with a phenomenal emotional memory. Ask Charis.)


(Here’s a copy of the original found at Letters of Note.)

image: georgelazenby @ flickr

I especially like the skull and crossbones doodle on his signature block.

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