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Famous Authors' Rejection Letters Surface

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Famous Authors' Rejection Letters Surface

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Famous Authors' Rejection Letters Surface

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

We all know what it's like to be rejected. But we can take some small comfort in the fact that we're in excellent company.

In 1954, the Grand Ole Opry turns thumbs down on an auditioning singer named Elvis Presley. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. And now, the New York Times informs us that over the years, the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf has rejected several writers, who turned out to be pretty good. The rejection letters are in the Knopf archives, which are stored at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Richard Oram is the associate director of the center. He joins us. Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICHARD ORAM (Associate Director, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas): Thank you.

HANSEN: What are some of the embarrassing rejection letters you have at the archive?

Mr. ORAM: Oh, well, it's Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank, Vladimir Nabokov and Jack Kerouac are just the few of the names represented.

HANSEN: Really? Can you read us any of the letters?

Mr. ORAM: Well, I thought that you'd be interested perhaps in the rejection for Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" because it's celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication this very month.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ORAM: Mr. Parks(ph), an editor there wrote that this is a badly misdirected talent and that this huge sprawling and inconclusive novel would probably have small sales and sardonic indignant reviews from every side to which another important Knopf editor added the statement: I don't dig this one at all.

HANSEN: Oh. I understand George Orwell's "Animal Farm" was also rejected. What was the reason for that?

Mr. ORAM: The reader wrote that it was impossible to sell animals to raise in the U.S. which is rather missing the point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Yeah. I think so. I think so. Are the rejection letters maybe a source of embarrassment?

Mr. ORAM: I don't really think so. There's been a great deal of interest in them. I think people always like to find successful businesses and people making mistakes and, of course, the Knopf Incorporated for it did make its mistakes just like every other publisher. But when you look at the Knopf backlist over 90 plus years, it's a remarkable one. And I think that most people who know American letters realized that Knopf Incorporated was probably the premier literary publisher of the past century.

HANSEN: Richard Oram is the associate director at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas where the Knopf archives are stored. Thank you so much.

Mr. ORAM: You're very welcome.

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