Dreamers who dare to reach for literary fame, or even modest success as a writer, are routinely condemned to obscurity, indignity and poverty. Of those crushed unfortunates, many are straight white men—a group that has faced oppression since time immemorial, most of all in the Darwinian realm of publishing. As you read this sentence, lit-bros from Brooklyn to San Francisco, armed with vintage typewriters, plaid shirts and rolling tobacco, continue to struggle against the odds. Passion overwhelms any thought of quitting.
But it’s hard! Sometimes, the pressure gets to them; sometimes the lit-bro lashes out. He knows his poems and stories are good, even very good, and that the jealous gatekeepers of elite small presses and venerated journals refuse to admit this. They are not ready for the lit-bro’s keen insights and innovation. They are stuck in the past, and they must be dragged into the future.
Who are these vindictive, backwards editors and writers — the ones fouling culture with dull relatability while dismissing the raw, transgressive genius of the lit-bro? It’s simple, really: They’re women.
Over the weekend, an anonymous lit-bro posted (and later deleted) a confusing screed against “Shitty Women in Publishing,” seeking to draw a parallel to the viral spreadsheet known as the “Shitty Media Men” list, which tallied reports of sexual misconduct from the industry’s male creeps. According to the nameless lit-bro, media women are guilty of an equal crime: colluding in private Facebook groups to keep specific men — including said lit-bro — from winning indie contests, appearing in magazines or being promoted on any literary platform.
That some of these men, including the poets Billy Collins and Sherman Alexie, are famous enough to be immune to any blacklist didn’t seem an impediment to the lit-bro’s conspiracy theory. They were just proof that women hate the power of male craft. They were fellow victims of a sorority that’s decided to punish any whiff of masculinity.
Because one of the lesser-known bros alleged to have been targeted by this cabal was poet Jay Sizemore, people were quick to theorize that he had written the vanished essay. Sizemore has denied this while nevertheless aligning himself with the mystery author — “Wasn’t me, but I’d high five em and give em a hug,” he tweeted — and decrying the “frenzy” of “fem bots, fembros, and fem turds” that had put his name to the post.
Whether or not he was the aggrieved party in question, he adheres to the histrionics and victimhood that define the persecuted lit-bro: His Twitter handle is @mosthatedpoet; he claims he’s been censored for being contrarian; and he pens poems like “Jay Sizemore Is Dead,” which contains the line “So many have wished I would die / like a candle on a birthday cake / that just won’t burn out.”
This put-upon branding almost certainly overestimates how many people know Sizemore enough to have feelings of any kind toward him, and it strangely elides his prolificacy: His Amazon page includes no fewer than a dozen self-published volumes, one titled MISOGYNIST, and the latest being a political outing, Mein Drumpf: Poems to Make American Great Again.
At this point, you may be wondering if the tortured lit-bro ever saves his ire for other lit-bros, particularly those who have attained some notoriety with subpar work — after all, they stand on the very pedestal the anonymous lit-bro should occupy. Perhaps he would sneer, for example, at 26-year-old Collin Andrew Yost, who last year rocketed to internet micro-celebrity as the “Most Hated Poet in Portland” on the strength of his sadboi Instagram musings. Yet the two may have too much in common for envious rivalry; the negative response to Yost’s ingrained antifeminism and Beat-era clichés did border on the abusive, allowing him to claim he’d been cyberbullied and traumatized, all while gaining thousands of followers — evidence that demonization, as the thin-skinned lit-bro understands it, speaks to lit-bro writing’s value, and can actually be monetized.
The masculine side of the literary world has long romanticized the misunderstood savant or the raving enfant terrible. Better to unleash thousands of words attacking prominent women, and women alone, than tear down a lit-bro who has pulled off what you hope to accomplish. Lit-bros are in the fight together, a fight against women obsessed with seeing them fail. As Sizemore puts it, “People reject me before I even open my mouth.” In fact, he never shuts his mouth, and people traumatized by his torrent of abuse—MISOGYNIST is violently and sexually threatening toward his chosen enemies—have coped by writing poems that prove how empty his own are.
What the lit-bro can never admit is that men staff the institutions from which he craves approval and awards, exercising outsize influence and making more than the women who outnumber them; men already fill the prestigious pages where the lit-bro dreams of seeing his byline — in fact, the non-profit organization VIDA tracks gender parity statistics for the likes of the Paris Review and The Atlantic, and women are typically underrepresented. It’s inconceivable that one is confined to the slush pile for the crime of being male, but since maleness informs the lit-bro’s reactionary politics, aggressive sense of entitlement, off-putting interpersonal manner and universally boring gloss on the misery of his comfortable American existence (i.e., the qualities that make him unsuitable for wider distribution), he has no choice but to see himself exiled over having a dick, or more properly, writing from the supposedly verboten POV of a dick-haver.
Well, dear lit-bro, I can assure you, there is and always has been a readership for testosterone-driven fiction, for dudely journalism and testicular poetry. There are even, it may surprise you to learn, women who read and enjoy such art — and who usher it into being. On the one hand, you’re right to take universal rejection personally, but you cannot blame the conveniently unchangeable fact of a Y chromosome.
You are unpleasant, undeserving and totally unwilling to reexamine the toxic or lazy aspects of the words you wish to inflict on us. Plenty of talented writers never get their due, and without fetishizing their defeat or blaming biased arbiters of taste. You will not be vindicated by the anger you code as righteous and cleansing, because it is neither. It is the self-pity of a wounded boy who would slap away any offer of help. Who knows, maybe you’re happy wallowing, but please just be aware: That’s the biggest cliché of all.