My Challenge to Ms. Magazine

Expecting silence in return, in 2002 I sent an angry letter to Ms. Magazine. Instead of silence, I received a phone call from Elaine Lafferty, Editor in Chief at the time. “I want to talk to you about your writing,” she said. Rather than choking on my words, I managed to describe my work & vision for the magazine. While she was not as interested in the latter, I will always be grateful to Lafferty for first inviting me to contribute to “the larger conversation” on an international scale. However, the status of fiction & poetry in Ms. is more of an endangered species than ever.

In an e-mail correspondence this month with editor Michele Kort about Ms. & literature, she offered, “I wish we did have more poetry and fiction as well.” Unfortunatley, based on the apparent lack of initiatives to mix things up a little, Kort may be alone in her interest.

I post the following letter from my archives (with a few deletions of personal material) because I believe that it is more relevant than ever. This issue affects numerous national publications, Atlantic Monthly being a notable example. The future of fiction & poetry in major print magazines reflects the diminishing value of literature in our 21st century culture. If women can’t look to venues like Ms. to take a stand & support feminist writers—much less emerging ones—who will?  

November 4, 2002

Dear Editors,

An avid reader and lover of Ms. Magazine, I am also an emerging writer and poet who was shocked to first learn that “Ms. does not accept, acknowledge, or return unsolicited poetry or fiction.” After reading the Summer 2002 / Best of 30 Years Fiction & Poetry Issue, I was stunned and infuriated to read the editors’ statement that “Ms. has been the ‘discovery’ place of first publication for many a now-established poet and fiction writer, serving as a ‘safe-house’ for work considered too daring, too angry, too feminist, too something to see in print elsewhere.” 

The editors were apparently describing the former Ms. Magazine, not today’s incarnation! Ms. is no longer a “discovery” place for emerging writers of fiction and poetry, and the current policy of refusing unsolicited manuscripts effectively silences struggling feminist voices. 

Apparently, Ms. has decided that it can no longer take the risk of first publishing women who are not already established within “the system,” that is, the literary “class” system that makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for emerging writers to contribute to the larger dialogue around us. Regarding those now-established writers that Ms. once discovered, how would they have first been published in the magazine with today’s policy? Or is feminism no longer needing fresh blood, voices and visions? 

Meanwhile, Ms. made its money on an issue honoring its former self. The magazine did not even have to courage to print the truth: Ms. editors are no longer interested in writers they do not already know, writers who do not have agents or editors, much less unpublished writers!  

This letter may be “too daring, too angry, too feminist, too something” for Ms. editors to consider seriously. But take note—this letter represents the case for hundreds of other feminist writers who may not write their own letters for fear that Ms. will discriminate against them in the future. I write for them, all well as myself. Sometimes the one who speaks up is the one who has the least to lose.

I cannot afford my dreams—including the dream of teaching writing workshops for women like myself who have no resources but a passion to write that is making them crazy, breaking their hearts, but somehow keeping their spirit alive. I write, desperately, in small pieces of stolen time that I create out of nothing, when I should be doing twenty other things in order for the next day to happen.

Reading Ms. Magazine at the end of a long day has continually given me hope for a better life. However, while Ms. has made a difference in my life as a woman, it has only confirmed the status quo in my life as a struggling feminist writer. 

Please do not publish this letter in your “Letters” section, letting the issue die while pretending to consider it. Instead, I am asking Ms. to end its policy of refusing unsolicited fiction and poetry—and open its heart and its pages to emerging feminist writers. 

Chivas Sandage