Letters - Autumn 2006

Response to Our Summer Issue


By Our readers

September 1, 2006



The Case for Love

I enjoyed entering into the imagination of Natalie Wexler as she connected the dots between the four principals in her essay, “The Case for Love” in the Summer 2006 issue. One could conclude that the human heart must learn the same lessons generation after generation. The travails of the Wilson and the Iredell families as construed by Wexler may be short on facts, but they resonate with the ring of truth.

I would, however, suggest to the author a more plausible explanation for Bird Wilson’s relationship with his stepmother, Hannah Wilson. Add it up. A lifelong bachelor who spent his whole adult life in the ministry, who had a mutual admiration society with his fashionable and spirited stepmother, only two years his senior.

I’d wager that Master Bird was gay—or its unspoken 19th-century equivalent. So perhaps Bird’s romantic life was not as barren or unfulfilled as Wexler imagined. It would not have been a forgotten footnote to history; to forget something it must first be known. It must be visible. As a gay man and a member of the clergy myself, I am relieved that not all 19th-century customs, norms and biases bear repeating in the 21st century. At least so far.

Reverend Davis S. Blanchard
Syracuse, New York


While reading the Editor’s Note in the Summer issue about the introduction of fiction to  The American Scholar, I was not disappointed in my expectations. There, at the bottom of the page, was the obligatory warding off of unfamous writers: Don’t call us, we’ll call your agent.

In future issues, readers can presumably look forward to the Same-Old-Names Syndrome. A succession of admirable authors who already have admirers who need no prompting to seek out their books will be offered another outlet for works that could find ready publication elsewhere.

One regrets that the Scholar did not use more imagination in bringing new worthwhile fiction to its readership instead of creating another niche that perpetuates the market problem it proposes to solve. Where are the names of tomorrow to come from if their opportunities are restricted today? Perhaps it would have been better to stick with nonfiction and poetry.

Warren Keith Wright
Arbyrd, Missouri


I would much rather have the pages in the Scholar currently devoted to short stories revert to their original intent—finely worded essays. The American Scholar does not have to copy those magazines that are geared to the short story. The essay is what the Scholar is all about.

Warren K. Martin
Honey Brook, Pennsylvania


One of the great tragedies of the past half-century has been the decline of “English Lit” and the rise of “creative writing,” accompanied by the destruction of the canon and the Ponzi scheme of granting tenure to poets and novelists in order that they might train students to go forth and (try to) get teaching gigs of their own.

The demand these days is for places to publish short fiction, not necessarily to read it. That’s why the glossies have abandoned fiction, and why some 247 magazines, of various periodicity and academic pretension, submitted stories to this year’s O. Henry prize anthology.

Indeed, the trend among the hipper quarterlies is to beef up creative nonfiction, one of the Scholar’s standbys. See, for example, the new regime at The Paris Review or The Virginia Quarterly Review, which recently has sponsored reportage from Antarctica.

Let’s hope the Scholar has a few surprises in store, not just blue chips like Alice Munro. Let’s hope the oh-so-tedious slush pile gets a fair look.

Howard Junker
San Francisco, California


There are plenty of good fiction publications on the market. The Scholar does not add much to that area. However, by its nature of having discussed serious issues in this country (and internationally), it had a serious niche in the world of publications. It should stay in that area and let fiction be cared for by other publications. If it starts publishing fiction, it will be just another magazine, even on the quality level.

Robert B. Pomeranz
Rio Ranch, New Mexico


The photo illustrating “My Holocaust Problem” on page 40 in the Winter 2006 issue should have been credited as follows: Nalewki Street, the Heart of the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw, 1938, photo by RomanVishniac. © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy of the International Center of Photography.

The first sentence in the first paragraph on page 34 of Susannah Rutherglen’s “The Sack of Baghdad” in the Summer 2006 issue should read: “The Iraq Museum lies on the west bank of the Tigris River … .”

Our readers may send letters to The American Scholar, 1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; or e-mail them to scholar@pbk.org. Please include a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length or clarity.

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