rejection letters, 1933-1937

In the basement of our Highland neighborhood house at 29th and Wyandot Street some years ago we found a few mementos of someone we never knew. Her name was Mary E. Horlbeck, and she appears (as far as we can tell) to have been a writer and possibly a proprietor of a diner in Edgewater (called Mary and Al’s). The following images come from a scrapbook she kept regarding her professional writing career between 1933 and 1937 – it document rejection letters she received from magazines all around the country.

In the scrapbook we found 138 rejection letters, all carefully glued in place, with the name of the story she had submitted written on them and occasionally a date. Over the years she authored and submitted many dozens of stories (with titles like Tomato Red, The Blessed Latticed Gate, Rake-Off, Rapture More Golden, and The Flesh Is Weak) to publications including Modern Romance, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Delineator, and Red Book and many others.

For some years, apparently, she never had a story published, though she did publish a few stories eventually after the scrapbook was all full up. We found four acceptance letters thrown in to the scrapbook loosely; for one story, she received forty-five dollars, fifty for another. A third said that she would have to wait till later to get paid, and the fourth said that she was the winner of tenth place in the Writer’s Digest short story contest.

The 1930’s were a tough time in Denver, around the country, and worldwide. This scrapbook is a testament to one person’s willingness to continue to pursue her dreams.

-Hugh Graham

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7 Responses to “rejection letters, 1933-1937”

  1. hadley Says:

    In 1994 I began sending my own packets to New York publishers and art directors to see if I could work as an illustrator. I had begun to compile my own book of rejection letters when we found this in our basement. It was a great read and made me feel that I had a companion in my campaign.

    The book has a great object quality about it too. Even thought this was in a scrapbook I don’t think that this was a sentimental book for her, I think this is how she kept track of what she sent to whom.

  2. Hugh Graham Creative » Blog Archive » rejection letters, 1933-1937 Says:

    […] of some of those that Helfand includes in her book (Anne Sexton’s scrapbook, for instance) Mary Horlbeck’s scrapbook is still charming and […]

  3. Mario Says:

    Thanks for posting these letters. I’m glad Mary Horlbeck kept this scrapbook. I felt much empathy with her struggle as a writer.

  4. Mary Lou Egan Says:

    How touching this scrapbook is! It makes you wonder about her – why was the scrapbook left behind? Did she have a family? Did her family know she was an aspiring writer? A great piece!
    Mary Lou Egan

  5. Nick Mamatas Says:

    Wonderful! Would love to see more scans!

  6. Michael LaBella Says:

    mary was my grandmother. man to find this is enormous. how do i find more out about this scrapbook. she had a daughter named Jacqueline, my mother, she passed away 2 years ago. my grandma did indeed publish many short stories under a pen name, i was talking to my wife today about it and she told me to google the name and pow right in the eye this site came up
    we did indeed live on 29th and wyandot, and my mom worked at the dog house bar on west 33rd owned by frank falbo. i would sure like to find out more.

  7. Michael LaBella Says:

    their will be more forthcomeing, i am putting together a little saga about my Grandmother. and her life in colorado
    Michael

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