Introduction to a Personal Anthology of beautiful rejects from the slush pile

I started this Personal Anthology in the usual manner – weighing my Nabokov against my Böll, playfully contrasting my Adichie with my Murakami, pitting Carter against Carver in a Thunderdome-style literary cage-fight. Isn’t that what, faced with the immense choice and variety of English-language short fiction, we all do, secretly imagining how delighted Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway would be to get the thumbs-up from us?

But then I remembered how I spent 2020 as a slushpile reader for Granta (as well as teaching, attempting to write, homeschooling two small kids etc.) and a daydream I’d entertained as story after story which I personally loved were (often reluctantly) turned down. I fantasized about starting up a fancy, high-paying print magazine for these wonderful stories by new, yet-to-be-famous authors, so that I could not only boast of finding them first, but pay them the professional rates their talent and hard work so richly deserved. It would be called SLUSHPILE: A journal of beautiful rejects. And at last they’d see print.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and inspiringly (but unsurprisingly), many of them now have – proof that persistence and quality really do win through even in a crowded, competitive market. As a fiction editor for over a decade now, of anthologies, literary magazines and of course Liars’ League, the live short story event I run, I want to encourage writers to submit, submit, SUBMIT (perhaps to the next Liars’ League theme, Heroes & Villains,) – because if it’s good enough, it will get there in the end.

Almost every story on this list has been rejected at least once in its career, often many times – and every story is unique, extraordinary in some way, and thoroughly deserves its eventual success. (Also, most of them are free to read online: win! And they’re all by 21st century authors – a first?) Enjoy. 

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