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Though many things have changed since The Atlantic's first issue appeared in
November 1857, the submission process has remained much the same. Then, as now, writers sent their best work to The Atlantic
with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Most manuscripts were returned to
their senders, while a few were accepted for publication.
The Atlantic takes credit for discovering a number of America's
now-legendary authors and poets. But a number of those writers initially met with their
share of rejection. Robert Frost's earliest poems were turned away by the
magazine. Edith Wharton had to petition Atlantic editor Bliss Perry to print her fiction. Jack London's best-known short story was dismissed on the grounds that it was too depressing. And although Emily Dickinson corresponded for twenty years with a leading Atlantic contributor who was also an unofficial assistant to the magazine's editor-in-chief, he found her style "spasmodic" and never prevailed upon the magazine to publish her work.
The following are inside stories of twelve great American writers who wrote—or strove to write—for The Atlantic Monthly.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Anonymous Sage
"In keeping with the standard practice of the 1850s, The Atlantic withheld the names of its writers, and thus, famous as he was, Emerson disseminated his observations under a cloak of anonymity."
Nathaniel Hawthorne: Clashes With Editors
"Many passages in the draft Hawthorne turned in ended up being altered by editors, whose views on these matters differed from his own. In response, Hawthorne is said to have grumbled, 'What a terrible thing it is to try to let off a little bit of truth into this miserable humbug of a world!'"
Julia Ward Howe: The Four-Dollar Battle Hymn
"I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking.... I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me."
Emily Dickinson: The Unpublished Poet
"Dickinson apparently took Higginson to be a kindred spirit
and wrote to him that same month, enclosing several poems.... Higginson was baffled by Dickinson—he recognized her unique talent but called her poetic gait 'spasmodic'—and did not make efforts to publish her work."
Mark Twain: The Joke That Went Too Far
"I was aware of Longfellow sitting upright, and regarding the humorist with
an air of pensive puzzle, of Holmes busily writing on his menu, with a
well-feigned effect of preoccupation, and of Emerson, holding his elbows,
and listening with a sort of Jovian oblivion..."
Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Scandal of Lady Byron
"Stowe was already a celebrated writer.... This new article, however, gave the magazine's staff pause. It was a detailed exposé of George Gordon, Lord Byron, including an allusion to the poet's widely rumored but then-unspeakable affair with his half sister."
Edith Wharton: Petitioning for Publication
"In 1903 Wharton, who had by then begun publishing short stories in Scribners, complained in a letter to Atlantic editor Bliss Perry,
'Why have you never asked me for a story for The Atlantic? I am tired of waiting.'"
Henry James: Changing With the Times
"By October 1899, The Atlantic's readership had shifted so drastically that editor Bliss Perry had to send James a carefully worded note, advising the author that some of his work was 'too subtle and delicate' for the broad new audience."
Jack London: A Dear John Letter
"Parker irked the writer when he took issue with London's byline: 'We venture to suggest the use of the more frequent form of the Christian name,' Parker wrote in a memo, '—John seeming to us better suited than Jack to literary purposes.'"
Robert Frost: The Long Road to Acceptance
"Sometime in 1912... [Frost] sent some of his poems to Ellery Sedgwick, the
editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and in due course received a personal reply
that read, 'We are sorry that we have no place in The Atlantic Monthly for
your vigorous verse.'"
Ernest Hemingway: A Visit to Cuba
"Eventually Hemingway turned up, and I was driven up to his farm (his finca) for tea. It was an absolutely lovely place, set up high, with a beautiful view. Outside of the house you could see Hemingway's writing tower. It had a number of windows, each of which contained a cat."
Vladimir Nabokov: The First Two Stories
"Introduced by Edmund Wilson, Weeks and Nabokov would have lunch together at the Ritz. 'Vladimir was an Elegant,' Weeks recalled, 'in baggy flannels and a worn tweed jacket. When I think of him I remember first his beautiful hazel eyes...'"