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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dalkey Archive Press's infamous ad, the "Worst Job Posting Ever," was satire, sort of

Posted by on 12.18.12 at 04:28 PM

The last time I talked with Dalkey Archive Press founder John O'Brien, he had shut down the press's Chicago office and given up on our fair city as a hub for anything literary.

That was a decade ago. Since then Dalkey—which started in Elmwood Park and is now based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—has opened outposts in the ostensibly more literature-friendly confines of London and Dublin. A quirky, donor-supported nonprofit, it publishes about 50 books a year, mostly what O'Brien has described as "subversive" (read "experimental") fiction, about half of them translations.

It's been famous in a fairly narrow niche.

Until last week, when O'Brien posted an ad on the Dalkey website for a couple London-based interns. O'Brien made it clear that he's looking only for candidates who "do not have any other commitments (personal or professional)" and "will do whatever is required of them to make the press succeed."

Entry-level positions with good publishers are notoriously exploitative, roughly equivalent to indentured servitude. But it may be a sign of our desperate times that a lot of folks who read that ad took it at face value. Even this warning didn't strike them as more than a reasonably sane employer might demand:

"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 . . . failing to respond to emails in a timely way. . . . DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above." (Read the whole post here.)

After the ad went viral, mostly under headings like "worst job posting ever," O'Brien tried to explain it as satire. It's "a modest proposal," he told the Irish Times. "Serious and not serious."

Which leaves some room for interpretation.

But the internships are real, and—hey—they could lead to actual, paying jobs. O'Brien told the Times he's "swamped" with applications.

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