Scoundrel Time

Three Letters of Recommendation

I will grant you anything you want, the Genie of the Lamp said. Three wishes…but first you must provide three letters of recommendation.

The villa in Italy where they serve you bonbons hourly, while you gaze at the pristine lake for inspiration, requires three letters of recommendation. One from someone famous who knows you intimately. One from someone famous who has never met you but knows your reputation, intimately. One from someone famous who never (ever) writes recommendations but makes an exception for you.

The only wish I will not grant, said the Genie, is for three letters of recommendation.

The castle in France requires three letters of recommendation by previous recipients of this prestigious residency. You may not request these letters or even know they are being written.

The high-paying teaching job that involves no teaching—except if you feel like it—requires one letter of recommendation. In triplicate. The recommender must be the current holder of this fellowship, the one who has sworn, I will only leave this job when you carry me out in a box.

I will tell you the secret way to the dragon’s lair and how to slay him so you may win the hand of the princess, said the old witch. But first, I will need three letters of recommendation. One from a princess, one from a dragon, and one from an old witch.

I’m thinking of commuting your sentence and saving you from the electric chair, said the Governor, but I will need three letters of recommendation.

The woman at the other end of the bar was gorgeous. I asked if I could buy her a drink. You may, she said… after you show me three letters of recommendation.

Our records show you have lived a good and just life, the Angel said, and so there is a place for you in Heaven. But first we will need to see three letters of recommendation.

You missed your flight because TSA now requires three letters of recommendation.

For white applicants, this residency requires that your three letters of recommendation be from people of color. (You don’t have three black friends? What a surprise! The requirement is waived.)

For applicants of color, this position entails three letters of recommendation by prestigious white people. Yes, it’s just the same as every other application.

You may have the above requirement waived if you fill out an official Waiver Request. Waiver Request form is available upon receipt of three letters of recommendation.


Tony Eprile grew up in South Africa, where his father was the editor of the first multiracial mass-circulation newspaper, The Golden City Post, and of Drum Magazine. His novel, The Persistence of Memory, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the Koret Jewish Book prize. He is working on a new novel, The War Artist. His prose has appeared in The Nation, Gourmet, the Washington Post, The New York Times, and he has a story in the recent anthology, Anonymous Sex. A current resident artist at MUHBA, Barcelona, he teaches fiction at Lesley University.


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