Braverman’s Very Public Break w/Graywolf Press

By Neal Comment

After taking part in my own panel on “Blogs, Boards, and Online Journals: Salons for the 21st Century” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference Saturday morning, I poked around the Austin Convention Center to see what else was going on—and when I noticed that Kate Braverman was taking part in a reading event for Graywolf Press, the publisher of Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles, I figured (having interviewed her a few weeks back) I’d try to say hello after the reading was over. But by the time I got to the hall, Braverman was gone…and pockets of people were talking about how, instead of reading from her memoir, she’d denounced Graywolf, including press director Fiona McCrae, for censoring the book’s ending, along with more sweeping allegations of shabby treatment—complaints she had voiced to me during an off-the-record interlude in our original conversation, along with her frustration over the swift rejection of a collection of unpublished short stories. Contacted by email Saturday night, Braverman reaffirmed her grievances in detail. “I got the full corporate treatment from a publisher with a ‘literary reputation’ who has not acted as a literary publisher with me,” she wrote, “and has unilaterally excluded the ending of my book with its clear moral and political trajectory.”

Robert Polito, the director of the New School’s graduate writing program, who served as the outside judge for the Graywolf nonfiction prize Frantic Transmission won, and who also bore withering criticism by Braverman, has a different interpretation of what happened to the disputed passage. While he and Graywolf all considered Frantic Transmissions their first choice for the prize, they also felt the ending was not as strong as the rest of the book. “There were various suggestions, such as returning to the women on the pier in that beautiful first chapter and following up on them, but really we were eager to see what Kate might come up with,” he said when I caught up to him on the convention floor shortly after the public melee. “Well, Kate gave it a try, and I saw two versions of a new ending—both extremely rough, rushed and journalistic in a way that none of her other writing in Frantic Transmissions is, and neither having much to do stylistically or thematically with the book. Frantic Transmissions is both very wild and very precise, and [the new ending] wasn’t at that same level at all.” He noted that he was actually sympathetic to the sentiments Braverman expressed in her submitted ending, “but the writing and thinking was obvious and rote in a way Kate never was anywhere else in the book.”

In fact, he says, the only case of censorship associated with Transmissions is Braverman’s insistence that he refrain from introducing her at a New School reading by reading from the foreword he wrote for the memoir, as she was offended by a list of Southern Californian artists and scholars he admires and to whom she was compared in a laudatory way. Braverman unhesitatingly expresses her disdain for his pantheon, dismissing them as obscure “people who have to be Googled” (and, in one case, as a “mud wrestler”). “Polito doesn’t possess enough critical apparatus to say, well, if eighteen of my twenty examples are male, does that mean Braverman is writing as no woman has before?” she adds in her email. “And that her writing needs to be examined in this context? No, he can’t put that 2 + 2 together.” This leads to an even broader complaint: that her talents are simply misunderstood by contemporary literary culture. “No one of importance has read [my] work,” she says. “It just gets referenced as great and legendary, which doesn’t bring me to the attention of the people who need to put 2 + 2 together… The simple truth is that until a critical examination is done of my work, everything is irrelevant and all publishers will deal with me as Graywolf has, an accidental aberration to be dispatched with haste.”

When I found Graywolf’s McCrae on the conference floor, her response was brief. “I don’t think we need to defend ourselves,” McCrae observed. “She has already hurt herself, rather than Graywolf, through her ungracious behavior. Her claims are so absurd, they don’t need to be dignified with a response.” Others who witnessed the incident were surprised and disappointed that Braverman chose to destroy her working relationship with Graywolf so spectacularly. “I would have loved it, and would still love it, if Frantic Transmissions launched a Kate Braverman revival,” Polito noted, agreeing with other eyewitnesses who described the public denouncement as a “squandered opportunity.” At this point, though, Braverman says she’s abandoned the quest for mere publicity. “When a publisher takes your book and sets up NO college readings for you, NO interviews, and a $500 total budget—and tells you your current and past work is of no interest,” she emails, “what kind of revival could they speaking of?” (During my conversation with Polito, he politely observed that the New School event last month was a college reading; my original interview with Braverman was arranged through her personal publicist.)

After all this, she’s placing her hopes in the “critical apparatus” of the literary canon. “Is there no one who will read with the chance that I might be the female Mailer? That I might be the Jewish Didion, of course, one or two or three generations later?” she writes. “It’s what I thought would naturally occur, after [the publication of Lithium for Medea and Palm Latitudes]. It didn’t and it hasn’t and it isn’t. Just put the books before someone who can think, someone from the Critical Apparatus and tell me if I’m having bi-polar delusions? That’s what I’m currently being accused of. Just take me to your Critical Apparatus or put a bullet in my brain pan.”