Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter
Talking about American Women Writers

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The University of Maryland is battling with Katherine Anne Porter's estate about her archive and control of her rights (see Links). Luckily I just got the final clearance --and e-book rights!-- from Farrar Straus Giroux to use some fiction by Porter in my forthcoming anthology, The Vintage Book of American Women Writers (January 2011). What a nightmare arranging permissions has been! I had lots of editorial help and back-up from Vintage, and my patient, resourceful, and endlessly optimistic editor Diana Secker Tesdell. But it was really an education in Dicksensian bureaucracy, greed, control freakery, inefficiency, lying, and the blindness of copyright holders to realities of all kinds. I thought that many executors would be happy to have some long-forgotten story or poem by an obscure woman writer republished, and see it as an opportunity to find new audiences. With a few stellar exceptions, not the case. Permisson editors "lost" my letters, until prodded by their bosses or aggrieved authors, when they miraculously located them in a manner of minutes. They took up to five months to reply to simple queries. They asked for exorbitant sums for negligible works. The representatives of various writers wanted to vet my brief introductions, and know who came before and after in the book. (It is arranged by author's  date of birth). They demanded revisions and objected to critical generalities. I finally had to drop twenty of my original 100 writers because they were too expensive or just inaccessible.

Isn't there a way to centralize permissions and reprint requests, with some standard range of fees and a reasonable time-frame? Seems to me this is what computers are for. Ironically, almost every text is now available on the web,, so anthologies may soon be a thing of the past. The big academic textbooks are already staggeringly over-priced, and engineered for planned obsolence; they carry out some kind of revision every few years so that students have to buy new books rather than used copies. It's a bit of a racket. My anthology is a single manageable volume, reasonably priced, and available on Kindle.

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