It felt pretty good when I first noticed a Wikipedia entry for my name. There I was, linked in the Wiki-sphere to other writers and various Iranian-Americans. (Intriguingly, Wikipedia makes a point of saying that Iranian-Americans are among “the most highly educated people in the country.” No elaboration on whether that includes Iranian-American JAG actress Catherine Bell.) Plus, because I’m a Sarah Lawrence alum, I was alphabetically positioned snugly next to SLC grads Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride and White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel. Not too shabby! However, just as I was getting comfortable with my sudden Wiki-presence, I received an email from the very person who generously established the entry on my behalf. It was a sincerely worded apology for my entry being deleted.
I was gone, vamoose, with only my name and some ugly lines about my entry being unsubstantiated (was I a ghost?). Initially, I shrugged. It’s not like Wikipedia is The Best American Writers of the Century. Heck, anyone can make an entry for anybody, ensuring that their cat’s bio is preserved for millennia, right? Or so I thought. Turns out you’re not supposed to put just any ol’ body in the Wikipedia directory – not your boyfriend, not your band, not your pets. In fact, there are vague but general criteria for having an entry. For writers, you must be “notable”-- meaning you have a book published, or stories published in notable journals, or you have won awards. (I’m still working on that last one.) Naturally, I was confused. I had stories published in notable journals. I have a book coming out. These things aren’t notable?
Because I don’t know when to let things go, I asked my friend why my nascent Wiki-self came to be extirpated. And the answer was disturbing to say the least. While I imagined a team of people in serious, drab business suits with an intricate system of rules and regulations deciding my fate, instead there was a guy named, let’s call him “Yellow Bill” (not his real name). Yellow Bill, it seems, has no real qualifications or standards for his vigorous, surgical deletions; indeed, from what I can tell, he spends his days and nights trolling Wikipedia, deleting people with wild abandon when they don’t meet his (personally ascribed) definition of “notable.” Interestingly The G.W. Review, an international literary magazine, is notable because they have a Wiki entry. So is The Minnesota Review. Yet despite having work in both, I’m not notable. (I hope my un-notableness doesn’t rub off on them.) Perhaps it’s my association with excellent magazines like Weber:The Contemporary West (un-notable despite having published literary god Rick Bass) and Coe Review (which manages to be un-notable while showcasing the lovely work of Pimone Triplett.) Quoth Yellow Bill: “Even my wife was published in Coe Review. That doesn’t make her notable.” (Way to take a crap on your wife, Bill.) Worst of all was YB’s contention that despite having a contract, despite thousands of dollars (okay, a very few thousand) changing hands, and just because there’s a publication date (January 15, 2010) for Bone Worship, it doesn’t mean my book will actually come out. Is that a threat, or is he like the Nic Cage character in that numbers movie and has calculated the future?
In the end, it turns out there’s not much I can do. Maybe when the book comes out – or if I win an Academy Award in the meantime – somebody out there can try to re-establish my page. If our irate cyber cop still doesn’t find me notable, however, he’ll blackball my name forever from the annals of Wikipedia. I don’t know what I did to you in a past life, Yellow Bill, but I promise, no hard feelings.
When the book comes out, I’ll even send you an autographed copy: From Notable Author Elizabeth Eslami.