At a reading in Cambridge this past fall, Ann Patchett said in passing that she doesn’t believe in acknowledgements. During the question and answer period, I asked her why. She explained that she feels it’s better to thank the important people in your life by giving them a copy of your novel in which you’ve written a personalized inscription. If nothing else, she added, a private inscription saves the author from the possible future embarrassment of having her book forever tagged with the reminder of a friendship that has faded away. But Patchett’s deeper concern seemed to be that the handwritten acknowledgement was more sincere, free of the performative element of a thank you that will be publicly reproduced every time the book is printed.
This article on the worth of the acknowledgements page (you know, where the author is supposed to ostensibly thank those who helped in the creation of the work at hand but in actuality mostly just wants to keep talking after the book is done) is interesting to me. Even moreso is Ann Patchett’s belief that they’re impersonal and ineffective for expressing gratitude. She’d rather pass along a copy of the book with a personal inscription of thanks. I get that. It sounds nice.
In fact, I’m all about trimming out the dross and scaffolding in books — especially the stuff that smacks of affectation and ego: I don’t use author photos, try to keep my bio short, eschew dedication pages, etc. etc. and generally weed my acknowledgements page down to a short paragraph, whenever possible. (Don’t get me started on those three page acknowledgements that are the literary equivalent of a rambling Oscars acceptance speech full of in-jokes and semi-clever accolades for people’s mere existence… And then there’s the cohort-claiming and name-dropping done as a marketing ploy… But I digress.)
That said, I think they’re still necessary.
Despite romantic tropes claiming otherwise, writers don’t work alone. My partner supports and edits me and I not only want to thank her, I am obligated to; my friends do as well and they deserve recognition for the free work they do to help me get paid; my editor works hard on the book, and while he gets paid for his work by the publisher, he does go above and beyond for me all the time (howdy, M); magazines and journals that published my poems in early draft took a chance and acted as incubators for my work (you never know how good or bad something is until you see it in public — frightening); and finally, when working under arts awards and grants, I receive investment from several levels of government, that that needs to be acknowledged so people who like my book feel positively towards these programs that help writers produce.
So, despite my instinct to go Marie Kondo on the guts of my books, I can’t do away with the acknowledgements page yet.