John Nagy '00 MA | May 7, 2019
The year 1939 had been rude to Richard Sullivan. A sweet-tempered and longsuffering professor of English and creative writing at Notre Dame, Sullivan ’30 maintained an active typewriter and soaring literary aspirations. Nine years out from his own graduation, he’d managed to publish a few poems and short stories in magazines like Scribner’s and had even broken into the ranks of Atlantic Monthly contributors, but the shine from such success was fading beneath a thickening stack of rejection slips — each one preserved in Sullivan’s papers in the University of Notre Dame Archives.
Mildred Boie, an editor at the elite Boston literary journal, was a master of the tart, one-line dismissal, and from May to December Sullivan received about one cutting rebuff from her a month.
“Dear Mr. Sullivan: ‘THE BEGGARS’ is sharp and effective, but not very appealing, and haven’t we seen it before?”
“Dear Mr. Sullivan: ‘The Intruder’ . . . impressed me very much, but we just don’t think in this crowded season it is a ‘must.’”
“Dear Mr. Sullivan: ‘Uncle Steve and the Pigeons’ is amusing, but too long drawn out.”
By the time the writer set his pen and notebook aside to celebrate Christmas Eve with his wife and two young daughters, dejection had wrung everything out of him but his faith and sense of humor. “Behind all my writing is the idea that life is a vale of tears,” Sullivan mused in his journal. “Maybe this is why I publish so little.”
At that moment, though, a small piece of good news was on its way: a contract from The Dramatic Publishing Co. of Chicago, laying out terms for the publication of a one-act play from which Sullivan had drawn a measure of reassurance (and modest royalties) for years.
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