Archives of Rejection

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What can we learn about unpublished literature - and literature as such - by studying rejected literature? Each of the article's four sections connects an archival document or set of documents to a topic in literary history and theory. In the first, a ledger tracking submissions to Charles Scribner's Sons in 1882 leads to a discussion about recovery projects. In the second, a century of Houghton Mifflin reader reports leads to a discussion about evaluation. In the third, a novel submitted to Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company in 1930 leads to a discussion about historical counterfactuals. In the fourth, correspondence from the archives of Amiri Baraka and his agent, Ronald Hobbs, from the 1970s leads to a discussion about taste. Together, these sections introduce a resource and exemplify a method: how attention to small, practical decisions can illuminate large, abstract processes. By attending to editorial debates about poetry, we can understand what artistic value meant to specific people in specific contexts - and thus what it might mean in general. Poetry, in other words, promises to illuminate what's literary about literary history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-227
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Literary History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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