December 1, 2011

THE EMPLOYMENT HORROR OF NEW YORK’S LITERARY CUBS:

Rebecca Chapman, who has a master of arts in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, hit bottom professionally last summer when she could not even get a job that did not pay. Vying for an internship at a boutique literary agency in Manhattan, Ms. Chapman, 25, had gone on three separate interviews with three people on three different days. “They couldn’t even send me an e-mail telling me I didn’t get it,” she said. . . .

Ms. Chapman added: “My whole life, I had been doing everything everybody told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. Then, I couldn’t do anything.”

On Facebook, Kate Coe cruelly comments: “Bad news, honey. You didn’t do anything before.” Cruel, but the bottom line is if you want to be a writer, write. Despite what they tell you at Columbia, nothing else matters.

Despite her upbeat take on the proceedings, Ms. Chapman admitted she wasn’t feeling chipper. It was her birthday. A happy occasion? For most, maybe — but not, she explained, when you are turning 25, having graduated summa from Cornell, with a master’s from Columbia, only to find yourself unemployed and back living at home with your parents.

You can write in your parents’ basement. And if you want to make it as a writer, you’d better. And if you want to make it as a literary agent, try making some sales for your unrepresented writer-friends. You can do that from your parents’ basement too.

UPDATE: Phil Bowermaster asks, what if you want to make it as an editor? Start your own webzine, I guess. But “editor” is an iffy career path at this point, especially if you mean “literary editor.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Virginia Postrel thinks I’m unfairly influened by the NYT’s spin: “It’s actually about young, aspiring literary intellectuals DOING THEIR OWN THING, using the web to write and publish the kind of work they want to do. They are taking the Army of Davids approach. The Times reporter decided to lead with the complaint, not with the actual subject of the article, which is the entrepreneurial workaround. Bitching about the economy is how you get stuff in the NYT. It’s not, however, what’s going on in the story.”

Good point, and I stand corrected.

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