Dalkey Archive Press Goes All Willy Wonka

Are you Charlie Bucket enough to get the job?


December 13, 2012

In what’s being called “the worst job posting ever,” Dalkey Archive Press, based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, asks: Are you pure-hearted enough to run the chocolate factory?

“Dalkey Archive Press has begun the process of succession from the founder and current publisher, John O'Brien…. Who will take on leadership positions at the Press over the next few years will be the result of this transitional process. The pool of candidates for positions will be primarily derived from unpaid interns in the first phase of this process….

“The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who: have already demonstrated a strong interest in literary publishing; are very well read in literature in general and Dalkey Archive books in particular; are highly motivated and ambitious; are determined to have a career in publishing and will sacrifice to make that career happen; are willing to start off at a low-level salary and work their way upwards; possess multi-dimensional skills that will be applied to work at the Press; look forward to undergoing a rigorous and challenging probationary period either as an intern or employee; want to work at Dalkey Archive Press doing whatever is required of them to make the Press succeed; do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.); know how to act and behave in a professional office environment with high standards of performance; and who have a commitment to excellence that can be demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. DO NOT APPLY IF ALL OF THE ABOVE DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU.”

The largest publisher of translated literature in the US, Dalkey has also opened offices in London and Ireland. Their name comes from a novel of the same name by Flann O’Brien (a pseudonym, so no relation), an Irish satirist and one of my favorite writers. The Press’s founder and Chief Everything Officer, John O’Brien, can be a bit…prickly, so satire might be an expected vehicle for the job posting he seems to have written himself.

“Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.”

The posting has generated the (perhaps predictable) storm of Facebook posts, Tweets (including those purportedly by a waggish intern at the Press), and articles at Salon, and the websites for the LA Times, the New York Observer and the Atlantic.

O’Brien has already responded in the Irish Times online, acknowledging the job ad as intended satire and calling it "a modest proposal. Serious and not-serious at one and the same time."

What many of the chattering class are failing to mention is the invaluable role Dalkey has played in the book world, both in publishing translations that would not be available otherwise to American readers, and in keeping canonical authors such as William Gass and William Gaddis in print when corporate publishers were willing to let their books go out of print. I used two of their novels, one Belgian and one American, in a graduate Forms of Fiction class this semester alone.

In an interview posted at the Dalkey site, founder O’Brien says,

So I started the Review [of Contemporary Fiction] out of a sense of isolation, as well as a kind of outrage at the fact that books and authors were reduced only to marketplace value. And I should say that, from the start, I wanted the magazine to break down the artificial barriers that exist among countries and cultures. It was my view then and now that one can't properly come to terms with contemporary writing without seeing it in an international context, and it's also my view that Americans generally don't want to know anything about the world outside the United States unless they are planning a vacation.


Over the years my hope for the Press was that it would be the ‘best’ literary publisher in the country, even if that honor might be by way of default. Whether it was through reprints or original works, I wanted the Press to define the contemporary period, or at least what I saw as what was most important in the contemporary period. Further, I wanted these books permanently protected, which is why from the start the Press has kept all of its fiction in print, regardless of sales. And as with the Review, I wanted the books to represent what was happening around the world rather than more or less being confined to the United States. Like the Review, Dalkey Archive Press was and is a hopelessly quixotic venture.


In 2009 I spent a day with Dalkey to do this profile for Inside Higher Ed. I respect the work the staff does there, like the people, and would like to own their entire backlist. When I was there, though, they were discussing ways to increase their visibility, and I guess they found one.


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