T.A. Noonan, Author of “An Open Letter to Triquarterly” Speaks

July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments


Last week, Brevity observed a literary imbroglio and weighed in on both sides. But in literary nonfiction, there’s always one more point of view. T.A. Noonan, the author of the anonymous letter that touched off the debate, weighs in.

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tanoonan-square.fullI’m T.A. Noonan, author of “An Open Letter to TriQuarterly.”

First of all, let me acknowledge that I wasn’t the first person to express dismay over “TriQuartergate.” By the time my letter appeared online, the conversation was well under way on Twitter and Facebook. I just wanted to add to it.

I chose anonymity because I’m a Sundress editor whose views were published on her press’s blog. I didn’t intend to speak for anyone but myself—certainly not my press. The post’s popularity, however, suggests that my letter echoed the betrayal felt by many writers.

Like Dinty W. Moore, I think I understand. And I’ll give the editors props for honesty, even if I wish they lied. In my perfect world, they would have admitted the mistake, closed general submissions, solicited work from those rejected unread, and worked their way through the backlog, reading every piece submitted. But that’s not what happened.

It’s reasonable to think that TriQuarterly will need to work hard to regain the literary community’s trust. Then again, they know all about that. Every time I read Edward Hirsch’s characterization of a web-based, student-run TriQuarterly as “vaporous,” I wince. There’s judgment there. Vaporous. Less-than. Not real. Not print. I can almost hear the commentary now: This never would have happened when it was print!

The question that haunts me isn’t “print vs. online” or “student-run vs. professional” but whether or not my imagined commentary—this never would have happened when it was print!—is true. If not, what are writers supposed to believe? We’re sustained by the notion that the selection process is fair and everyone gets a shot. Take that away, and what’s left for us?

Even more troubling, though, is if such a thing wouldn’t have happened at TriQuarterly back when it was print. What does that say about the ways that editors, authors, and readers evaluate literary journals? Do we really see online journals as vaporous?

Maybe I’m overthinking. It’s definitely unfair to ask TriQuarterly‘s editors to bear the responsibility of answering the questions I’ve posed above. (For the record, I do appreciate Adrienne Gunn’s thoughtful response.) Instead, all members of the literary community need to ask ourselves what we really value and how we demonstrate our valuation.

I keep coming back to one Facebook comment about my letter. The author critiqued my threat to not submit to TriQuarterly, wondering why I didn’t cancel my subscription and suggesting that I didn’t value TriQuarterly because I (probably) didn’t even subscribe. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve been online and free since 2010 and explore the implications of that comment.

Is the act of financially supporting a journal more important than submitting or writing? What if one doesn’t have the means to financially support a journal? Are magazines published on shoestring budgets and/or supported exclusively by their editors less important than the ones that need subscriptions, fees, and donations to survive? What about journals whose institutions pour funds into them?

And, most importantly, what is the writer’s responsibility to the literary community vis-à-vis journals?

I can’t answer that for everyone, and neither can TriQuarterly. Instead, I’ll leave you with this observation: According to WordPress, my letter has been viewed over 4,000 times and shared almost 800 times. That’s more than anything I’ve ever published in print. That’s readership comparable to some of the biggest print journals out there.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

T.A. Noonan doesn’t hate TriQuarterly, its editors, or its authors but meant what she said in her letter. She is also not-so-secretly rooting for TriQuarterly to change her mind.

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§ 4 Responses to T.A. Noonan, Author of “An Open Letter to Triquarterly” Speaks

  • You bring up useful questions here, dwelling quite a bit on “what if” scenarios involving financial support. I don’t think it makes sense to blame writers, even though of course writers should support the arts. More often than not we do wholeheartedly, spending more than we should on literary magazines, books, and those pesky fees we pay every time we submit to contests. That’s not the issue–and neither should the issue be whether a publication suddenly becomes vaporous simple because it’s online OR student-run. Like others have commented on, the issue goes back to Northwestern’s decision to pull the rug out from under TriQuarterly–both financially and editorially–thinking the magazine would somehow magically continue without a hiccup.

  • […] believe me, T.A. Noonan, believe me, I know–no, I KNOOOOOOOOW how it feels to be another unknown writer in a […]

  • […] controversy last week, and T.A. Noonan’s cogent responses to same (both anonymous and by-lined), the cynic says, “Oh, I bet you say that to […]

  • marcwatkins says:

    At least you got a rejection, or more to the point “I’m not going to read it.”

    Over a year ago the former managing editor of Triquarterly solicited a story from me. I followed up with him a few times, and he assured me it was still under consideration. Then nothing. No response. No rejection. Months turned into a year. I wound up placing the story elsewhere.

    I spoke to a few fellow writers and I got the impression that this has been the norm since the big 2009 hand over.

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