Journal that has helped define Canadian literature turns 50
The current challenge for the publication is to remain viable in the online universe
In 19 5 9 , C a n a d a w a s n ’ t thought to have a literature worthy of the name. Still, Roy Daniells and others at the University of B.C. persisted and started a scholarly journal called Canadian Literature, which has survived to celebrate its 50th birthday.
The current issue, No. 201 — it’s a quarterly — features writ- ing on eco-criticism, Jewish culture, Quebec literature and the urban novel, plus a goodly helping of poems and book reviews.
The late George Woodcock was the journal’s first editor. W.H. New took over in 1977 and edited it until 1995. Subsequent editors — UBC English professors, like Bill New — have been Eva-Marie Kröller, Laurie Ricou and the woman currently at the helm, Margery Fee.
New recalls that in the early years, the journal’s activities were “recuperative.” Canada had had writers who produced bestsellers as far back as the late 1800s, but by the 1950s “a lot of knowledge about the art in the country had disappeared or faded.” There weren’t many textbooks about Canada, and its publishing houses — most are 30 to 40 years old — had yet to be founded.
When New was editing Canadian Literature, its mission became examining nuances of style and bringing to light work by native Canadians and writers of varied ethnic backgrounds — “things that were not high on publishers’ lists or in people’s reading patterns.”
Fee says that through the 1960s, the ’70s and into the ’80s, Canadian Literature was read by writers. “Where else could you look for new work?” It published Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Livesay, Al Purdy, and many others.
These days, its subscribers are primarily institutions outside Canada and its readers are mostly graduate students.
Fee is struggling with an issue that didn’t confront the journal’s earlier editors: the expectation that all of its content should be published instantly on the Web. (Its site has a memorable URL: Canlit.ca.)
She notes that having articles peer-reviewed and many other aspects of producing a journal cost money. Canadian Literature has always been a shoestring operation, but the pressures the online universe places on it are a new challenge.
To mark the journal’s 50th anniversary, UBC has been holding a Canadian Literature gala this week. And Ronsdale Press has published From a Speaking Place, an anthology of writing from past issues.
• The Golden Mean, the imaginative novel about Aristotle and the young Alexander the Great by New Westminster’s Annabel Lyon (reviewed here Aug. 15), has been picking up award nominations. This year’s powerhouse Giller Prize jury — Russell Banks, Victoria Glendinning and Alistair MacLeod — put it on the long list, which happens to have novels by 10 women and two men on it.
Then came this week’s news that The Golden Mean had made the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize short list. All of this is great news for a local writer who works extremely hard at her craft.