Twenty years before Kurt Vonnegut published his semi-autobiographical classic Slaughterhouse-Five, he sent his work to The Atlantic Monthly. Here was his first public attempt at capturing on paper the bombing of Dresden (an effort he’d try again in Slaughterhouse). What did The Atlantic think?
None of the work “seems to us well-adapted to for our purposes,” editor Edward Weeks wrote Vonnegut.
In a rejection letter nearly as self-critical as the one we shared from Sylvia Plath, Weeks continues: “Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.” Translation: “Sorry, buck, we’re not interested.”
Dismal news for anyone, but the twenty-seven-year-old Vonnegut prevailed.
Before his death in 2007, he published three short-story collections, five plays, five works of nonfiction, and fourteen novels, including that little masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite his success (or perhaps because of it), Vonnegut kept his rejection letters. They now hang on the wall at the memorial library bearing his name.