10 Notorious Literary Spats

Patrick Kingsley recently wrote in The Guardian about “poisonous literary feuds” and the peacemakers who could broker a truce. We ran a post on the subject last year, but thought we would do an international list of troublemakers this time around. We’d also like to honor the man who racked up the most hours feuding with his literary colleagues: Norman Mailer. Writers today generally aren’t as venomous toward each other (although maybe Colson Whitehead would disagree after his salivary encounter with Richard Ford). We have to agree with Mailer’s proclamation on The Dick Cavett Show: “I’m going to be the champ until one of you knocks me off.”

Colson Whitehead vs. Richard Ford

In 2002, Whitehead gave us a hilarious and scathing review of A Multitude of Sins in The New York Times. He writes, “The characters’ sense of befuddlement comes to infect, but never to enlighten, the reader.” He later notes, “At the top of the story, the protagonist offers an Awkward Pang of Simmering Dissatisfaction, which sounds suspiciously like the A.P.S.D. offered by the character in the previous story.” For this, Richard Ford spit on him at a Poets & Writers party. Afterward, Whitehead said, “This wasn’t the first time some old coot had drooled on me, and it probably won’t be the last. But I would like to warn the many other people who panned the book that they might want to get a rain poncho, in case of inclement Ford.”