Using Pseudonyms to Get Published?

Have you ever used a pseudonym in your writing? And if so, why? Just curious. Having a nom de plume used to be de rigueur, back when we spoke French to sound snooty and used plumes to write. More recently, writers, like actors, seem to get along fine with their own names.

Only time I ever had a pseudonym, it was made up for me by an editor to put onto a wine column I wrote for a singles magazine — that was mocking myself, the author of a wine column in a local city magazine. I became Phil Caraff for that one article. I mean, how often do you get to write a parody of your own writing?

On a more serious note, and what impelled this question, here’s a story about a poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, whose poem was rejected 40 times under his given name but accepted when he used the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou. (Actually he was rejected nine times as Chou but that’s still a better record than forty times as Hudson.)

Read the article here in Christian Science Monitor:
Why a white author used an Asian pseudonym for his poem

The editor of Prairie Schooner, which did publish the poem, says he didn’t know that Yi-Fen Chou was a pen name. And then it got better. The poem was selected for inclusion in 2015’s edition of the Best American Poetry Anthology.

Now, many writers have used pseudonyms for various reasons and one rule has always been that the writer has to tell the editor his or her real name. There are two obvious reasons for this.

  1. The editor must be reassured that the author is someone real, unobjectionable to the publication, and a bona fide expert if that’s important too.
  2. The editor has to pay the author and needs the usual identification to do so. One reason all this fuss came about is that poets rarely get paid at all and so (2) didn’t matter. So Hudson didn’t tell the editor that Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym.

When all this came out, other poets went ballistic.  In the Monitor piece they ranted about how Hudson had cheated or had broken some rule or had done this bad or that bad. No one, in the entire article, faced the ugly truth: that a poem written by someone with a fake Chinese name got published and even given accolades when it had been rejected under the man’s true name. No one seemed to think poetry should be judged on the basis of the poem itself.

But the Best American Poetry 2015 editor did ‘fess up, writing, in the Best American Poetry 2015 blog, (scroll ‘way down in that blog to read the editor’s comments) Sherman Alexie, the editor for the Best American Poetry anthology not only admits to favoring the Chinese name:

“Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.”

But admits, nay boasts, that he also favors poems with long titles.

“I’d been drawn to the poem because of its long list title (check my bibliography and you’ll see how much I love long titles)”

Perhaps they should rename the annual book American Poetry with Long Titles Written by (Supposed) Non-White People.

And then things got really strange. Turns out that the pseudonym, Yi-Fen Chou, wasn’t much of a pseudonym at all. It’s the name of a fellow student at the high school Hudson had attended as a teenager. Read that article in the New York Times. The real Chow is mightily annoyed at all this. This sort of screws up Hudson’s intent to make a good political point about who gets into poetry anthologies.

So, we have a poetry anthology editor who favors long titles and non-white poets or at least non-white poet names. And we have a poet who is too lazy to come up with an original Chinese name — or too stupid to anticipate the results of using someone else’s name.

So, what about you? Have you used a pseudonym for any reason?

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