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Everything wrong with publishing: Jennifer Acker of The Common

Tuesday 5/14/24

So we'll do the turn and burn thing and straight off into an entry about Jennifer Acker, who we just saw hooking up Carolyn Kuebler. I want to show you a certain kind of reader-genocide cell. In this group we'll have the likes of Kuebler, Acker, Ladette Randolph, and some others I'll come to. It works along the same lines with each of them. Everything in this system works along the same lines, more or less, with everyone in it, but I want to focus on this group.

Later on we'll get to dialing in on Ladette Randolph, an editor I met with here in Boston who was stupid enough to say to me, "If you want to be in Ploughshares"--that's the award-winning" journal she edits--"then be friends with the guest editor." A guest editor is picked for most issues at Ploughshares, and the guest editor then hooks up their friends by putting them in the magazine for his or her issue, and because everyone here is lying out of their asses and making like things that suck are great, they all say it's the best writing there is, and then it's picked up for the likes of Best American Short Stories.

It's the worst writing there is. This guy who is himself an awful writer sent me an email once about Randolph, about an exchange he had with her where she mistook him for one of the chosen writers of the system, due to him having a similar name, and then he corrected her, saying I'm not actually that writer, and she never responded again. But we'll get to her later. Man, do I know a lot about Ladette Randolph, going all the way back to her time in Nebraska.

Randolph is "hosting" a reading of Kuebler's new book. See how this works? These dim frauds roll the log for each other. The Kuebler book has been picked as a noteworthy selection by Oprah's site. Get used to me saying something like that. You're going to see a lot of that with this kind of person, which tells you all you need to know about how something like Oprah's site is going to work. It's a hook-up center for a certain kind of talentless female writer. I'd be more than happy to say male writer if that was true, but it wouldn't be. We just saw how bad Kuebler's writing is. Remember that analogy? Each paragraph is like an empty shopping cart--there is nothing in it. Get to the checkout line, and the teenage kid whose first job this is is bagging air. Nothing in the bag. "Want me to double-bag your nothingness, lady?"

In addition to editing The Common where she hooks up the likes of these people who are like her and have no ability, Jennifer Acker writes. She has never made any money with her writing. She's published very little of it. That's not going to change. What she has published is a result of a hook-up. Of someone saying, "You're like me, let me do something for you." And yet, Jennifer Acker--who would sooner sever all of her limbs by picking away at her flesh with a sharpened pair of rusty tweezers before she'd allow me to advance on her watch and gain inclusion in her journal where every single piece sucks--has an agent from the Aragi Inc. who represents her.

Why? There's no money. There won't be money. It's just a club of broken freaks doing things for those who are like them. 'Cause. This isn't business. It's not entertainment. It's not art. It's a high school lunch table.

The Aragi stands for Nicole Aragi, a bad piece of work (she represents Junot Diaz, whose entire use in life seems to come down to representing a perhaps unanswerable question: Is he worse at writing or more of a misogynist? We may never know) who is married to John Freeman, who perhaps better than any other single person represents everything wrong with publishing. We will get to this guy. We'll get to another guy who is a friend of his who stole money from me. Took actual money. There's going to be a lot with Freeman. I've written on here that if you are in bed with him, I'd jump clear if I were you and and attempt to get ahead of things because if you don't, you're going to get lit up when he does. His corruption goes far. Really far. He's also an editor and at Grove/Atlantic--such lovely people at Grove/Atlantic, as we've seen before, with Katie Raissan and will see with others to come--where he does deals with his agent wife.

Want to know the name of Jennifer Acker's agent? Duvall Osteen, because these people are just born pretentious with names like Duvall.

In Jennifer Acker, you have someone who has published less than a dozen things--shitty things--in their life, one being a book with the predictably bland title of The Limits of the World--sounds fascinating--blurbed by, of course, John Freeman, via an automatic-on-the-take-because-this-is-one-of-us puff piece "reviews." Review my Boston ass. She's not twenty-three. She's whatever she is and this is all there is. She sucks at writing. She can barely produce anything. What she does produce is terrible. Doubt me on that? I know no one does--just a rhetorical question.

And yet with all of this being true, there will be an agent, and there will be the hook-up for the publication of an almost unbelievably bad and pointless piece of writing in Oprah's magazine. I want you to actually click on this link when you're done reading this entry on here. I'm asking you. I know I'm asking a lot because you don't want to read this. You're going to think something like, "There's four minutes of my life I'll never get back." I apologize. It's just that there are important things at stake here. These people have killed off reading, and that's a big deal in society and culture. It's not even just a reading deal. It's a human wellness deal. We are worse and worse at communicating, at knowing ourselves, touching the lives of others, being open to having our lives touched with all that requires. Because it requires something from us. Awareness, courage, vulnerability. When we don't communicate and don't even know what communication is anymore--it's not hitting the like button on Facebook or a post on Twitter--we are much less well than we can and should be. As individuals, as groups of people, in our relationships, our families, our communities. And within our own heads and hearts. We're isolated, disconnected, adrift. That fosters mental illness, depression, despair. Life can become performative and often does, rather than something we actively live. We're less good to ourselves and to the world.

This is an excerpt from the above piece by Jennifer Acker in Oprah Daily, where writers like this are hooked up. I can't qualify that by saying "no matter how bad they are at writing," because that suggests degrees of difference, and they're each equally bad, as we have seen. That they are this bad is inarguable once we look at the actual work as we just did with Carolyn Kuebler. What did I tell you? That she and Jennifer Acker are basically the same person. With Kuebler, we got nothing. And with Acker, we get the same.

With two Pfizer shots in my arm and a possible third on the horizon, I should be feeling renewed, eager to engage in the months to come. Instead, I’m scared, apprehensive. Because even if the world outside were perfectly safe, I don’t have a normal life to return to.

For 18 months, like much of the world’s computer-tethered class, I’ve worked entirely from home—able to nap when I’m tired and lay down on the floor when my neck and back spasm. Sometimes I can even host meetings back to back, knowing that I don’t have to walk across campus in between. I’ve attended more meetings, after-work readings and literary soirees during our year-plus of plague than I have in the previous five years because, if I need to, I can get horizontal and turn the video off without leaving the party.

And it goes like that for the dozen paragraphs or however many there are in the piece. I want you to ask yourself a question: If you wrote something that rote, that empty, that blah, what do you think you could do with it? Think you could get it published in Oprah Daily? Do you think anyone would think well of it if you showed it to them? If you showed it to a friend, your neighbor when they came by, what would they say to you? "Oh, that's nice," something like that, right? Maybe, "Good for you, trying to write something." But nothing more, right? And I'm not saying that you would write this. I'm not trying to put you down. I do think that if you sat down to write something honest, that it'd be a lot better.

Here's another paragraph:

Of course I miss inviting friends and family to my house for dinner. I miss listening to live music and sitting so close to the stage during a play that you can see the spit flying from the actors’ mouths. But even without a pandemic, I’m no longer fit for a life unthinkingly in motion. A life in which being there is always required.

That's ironic that she should say this, because there is nothing there. You can't say less. If you say "Hi, how are you?" or "What's up?" to someone, you are saying more than she does in this piece. Than she does anywhere in her writing. What is this? How is it even writing? Is it writing simply because there are words and some capital letters and some commas and periods? Does that make something writing? Do you honestly believe that the likes of Duvall Osteen read what you just saw, or its ilk, and thought, "Here is an author of real commercial prospects"?

Of course not. That's impossible. It was one of the members of the clan. That's all that is happening everywhere here. There is nothing else. I'm not hiding the exceptions from you. This is entirely how it works. And it's the fakest thing ever. No one thinks that is good. No one thinks Jennifer Acker is a good writer. No one thinks Carolyn Kuebler is. Ladette Randolph. John Freeman. Wait until we get to another one of these women in the Oprah Daily sinecure, but I'm not going to spoil that right now.

How about some fiction this time from Jennifer Acker? Do I even need to tell you that John Freeman hooked her up when he was a Lit Hub? Do I need to tell you that Mark Krotov, the editor of n+1, was at Melville House and Dennis Johnson essentially said to him, "I have decided to discriminate against Fleming and when you go out into the world at your next job, I want you to do that, too" and he was like, sure, I'll do that. That's what you're dealing with with these people. Insane, broken, toxic, bigoted people. Here's how Acker's story at n+1 starts:

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, on a street whose name I’ve forgotten, a dog bit my ankle. I kicked the mongrel in the teeth. He yelped, and a sharp voice called him away. I peeled down my sock. Not much blood, but the skin was broken in three places.

I raced back to the garden guesthouse where I lived, high up on the hill. I showed Gabriel the wound and told him the dog’s owner had no vaccination papers. Promises, but no proof. A scientist and my host, Gabriel stretched the skin with his right hand while little Isabella tugged the fingers of his left. It was almost time for comida and the kids were clutching their bellies in mock starvation.

“It’s not very deep,” he said. “Wash it with soap and water.”

In the bathroom, I picked off jagged crumbles of soap with my thumbnail and jammed them into the small holes.

The table was laden with tamales, salad, and agua de Jamaica, but I couldn’t eat. Before leaving the States, I’d received three rabies boosters and a warning I’d need more if I was bitten. I said, “Shouldn’t I see a doctor?”

How terrible is that? There is not a damn thing here in any of this. And when all of the writing is the same and there's nothing in any of it, who gets this and who gets that is going to be all about these other things. Gross ass things.

Why would you embed pieces of soap in a cut? You wouldn't. They never think. What's it matter? What does it seriously matter how stupid this is? It is going in automatically because that's how the system was rigged. I needn't really add that the people of this system see the word "comida" and think they're all worldly and here's something exotic and that means of more value, because you know that.

And that's all the story is about, by the way. It's not the start of something just because it's at the start of the story, do you know what I mean? That is the story. Nothing else is going to happen. Again, no stakes. Writing without stakes is writing without value. These people live lives without any value. They put forward work without value. They teach how to write work without value. They endorse works without value, praise works without value, award works without value, anthologize works without value, represent work without value that is also not going to make anyone a dime. Just so they can be a system person. And have no accountability, with no need to produce anything that anyone's going to like or care about.

Carolyn Kuebler, John Freeman, Ladette Randolph, every one of the others we've seen, Jennifer Acker, it's all the same.


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