I Got Fired.

This is not a new story, but it is a true story.

Several years ago, I blissfully, joyfully, dream-come-true-fully-taught creative writing in a Master of Fine Arts program in New Hampshire and I got fired. Unceremoniously and without cause, I was let the F-go.

The phone rang at 8PM on a Sunday night. The kids were asleep. I picked it up, and the program director said, “Ann, I’m calling to tell you that we aren’t having you back this next semester.”

My heart hammered, my breath caught in my throat, and I said, “{director’s name here} I am stunned. I don’t know what to say.”

Friends, this was my dream job. I loved the faculty—they had become my best friends. I still keep in touch with a lot (a lot) of the students from those years of teaching. The side hustle salary made my divorced, single mom of 2 kids, full-time Wisconsin professor life actually doable. It meant I could save for college for my kids and retirement. More than that, the experience of teaching writing felt like living and working in a candy store, and everything on the shelves had zero calories.

“Why? Why are you letting me go?” I said, feeling terrified that I’d done something egregious. Had I offended a student? Broke a significant rule? Done something to poison by beloved position?

I had wonderful teaching evaluations—I’d been a teacher for twenty-six years with many awards, hundreds of thank-you notes from students, tons of credibility for my skills. I have a PhD in education.

“Your next book isn’t going to be a big book.”

“My next book isn’t going to be a big book?”

“No. It’s not.”

My heart rate slowed, I stopped shaking, and my throat was no longer dry. I straightened my shoulders, though he couldn’t see it over the phone.

I knew what this was.

The director wasn’t predicting the future, telling me my book wouldn’t be a big book. He didn’t read my books.  He wasn’t firing me for my teaching.

He was firing me because of his opinion of my writing.

His opinion was that I wrote not-big books. A big book is an important book that holds a mirror up to society, brings truths to light, gets on lists, wins literary awards and the authors become part of our cultural zeitgeist.

I’m a woman who writes about people who do too much in a culture that asks too much from them. I use humor to highlight it all and make it hurt a little less. His book released around the same time was about different generations of parenting, background and loyalty in America—apparently a contender for the big-book moniker.

He did to me what we do to people who threaten us.

He put me in my place. And that place was far away from him because he thought I was less than and my less than might rub off on him if I hung around his program.

Why am I telling you?

It’s time for me to stop feeling shame about getting fired for something that had nothing to do with me. Every time I talk about it, I feel better. And writing about it reminds me not to diminish people.

It’s easy to do, and it can feel good to put down someone who is doing well. But it doesn’t look good on us even though you can do it sneakily.

In the writing world—this is how it sounds….

  • “She wrote it, but it’s not literary,” –Meaning it has little art or value.
  • “It’s women’s fiction.” –Men write fiction. Women write a subcategory of fiction called women’s fiction.
  • “She writes genre fiction or commercial fiction.” –Thrillers, romance, children’s books, sci-fi, and YA.
  • “It’s easy to write those books. There’s a formula.”
  • “She wrote it, but she had help.”
  • “She writes like a man.” –Using this as a compliment.
  • “Your book isn’t going to be a big book.”

So, what happened to the book he fired me for? It made the USA Today Bestseller list, was number one on Amazon for a week and sold enough books for me to quit my tenured teaching job and write full-time.

His book? Yeah, it flopped big time. Am I diminishing him with my opinion? Nope, there’s data—if I published a book that did that poorly, I’d be embarrassed.

Like I was embarrassed about getting fired.

So, this isn’t a new story. People get fired all the time. When it happened to me, it helped me figure out how to be aware of my petty jealousies and hierarchical thinking. It made me be a better person which will ultimately make me a better writer.

You can see for yourself if you like. I have a book coming out in August of this year. 

Is it going to be a big book?

It’s big for me. And that’s what matters to me.

Xo Ann

Appearance and Teaching Schedule Here

Read more about this here: Joanna Russ

Photo Credit