You Can’t Cash Acclaim at the Bank

Jennifer Weiner talks on her blog about the plight of author Mary Gaitskill, a widely acclaimed novelist and a National Book Award finalist. But acclaim, as the NY Times reports in their piece on Gaitskill, doesn’t always translate into money. Gaitskill barely scratches out a living and is deeply in debt.

"Her life is not easy," said Knight Landesman, Ms. Gaitskill’s friend and the
publisher of the magazine Artforum. "There have been good reviews, but that does
not translate into dough. She has not been offered the cushy faculty job at
Princeton. The work has been too raw, and that’s why this has been, really, such
wonderful news."

Gaitskill’s financial troubles were a shock to Weiner, a bestselling novelist herself who considers the author a major influence.

Gaitskill was one of the writers who made me believe that I could be a
writer, too, and her characters, while creepy, live and breathe on the page. If
she’s in debt and living in a doom room trying to write over the noise of
Britney Spears, there’s something wrong with the modern-day patronage system
that I always figured was working pretty well.

I recommend both Weiner’s post and the NY Times article to all aspiring writers — many of whom have unrealistic expectations about what they can expect once they are published.  Sadly, Gaitskill’s story is far more common than Weiner’s.

9 thoughts on “You Can’t Cash Acclaim at the Bank”

  1. Gaitskill isn’t dining on caviar but let’s put things in perspective. Syracuse has one of the best writing programs in the nation and almost anyone else would consider teaching there a “plum.” Plus, if you let more than a decade pass between novels, yeah, you’re going to fall off the radar a bit. And $50,000 in debt? Well, welcome to the middle class, circa 2005.
    Gaitskill’s a great writer but I don’t think anyone hovering around her income level would call her situation a “plight.”

  2. This article reminds me of a Letter to the Editor I read about a year ago while visiting my parents in San Francisco. A computer programmer was lamenting his lack of job and explained that he wasn’t looking for hand-outs, but he was owed the chance to make a decent living in the field in which he had been trained.
    By that logic, anyone who graduates college with a degree in Creative Writing is owed a book contract and anyone who graduates with one in Drama should be handed a film role along with his diploma….
    Ms. Weiner may love Ms. Gaitskill’s books but clearly not enough of the market feels the same way. I fail to see the injustice.

  3. To be fair to Ms. Gaitskill, it does not appear that she’s complaining, although others might be on her behalf. As for Ms. Weiner… if she feels badly for struggling authors, she should write a check. I’m sure she can afford it.

  4. This confirms what I’ve always believed… once an author publishes a book, the most important people are the readers.
    The Review Desk at NYT may wax lyrical over an author, but the real acclaim comes from the number of readers who part with their hard-earned cash to buy the book.

  5. Yeah this isn’t a garunteed type of business. Weiner is indeed the exception and writes for a specific audience just like Laurie Notaro. It’s not my kind of fare but that audience is the reason for both successes.

  6. I agree with David – I’d read the full interview when it originally came out, and the one thing I remember was that Gaitskill was shocked at being nominated for the National Book award. She wasn’t necessarily lamenting about her pay, if anything she took it in stride, if I recall she mentioned more about how the darkness and edginess of her work cost her teaching positions – I may have to go back and reread it.
    Hopefully, this will direct folks to her work. I am unfamilar with it . . . anyone know her stuff?


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