From Our Editors

Photo by George Marks/Retrofile RF / Getty Images

Welcome to Hamilton Review of Books’ second issue. As we send out into the world another batch of exceptional writing and visual art from our community of talented contributors, we have been reflecting on just how welcoming the Hamilton literary scene has been to us. From our Hamilton Spectator coverage to our joint work with gritLIT, we are gratified and very grateful.

In some ways this second issue should have been easier than the first, now that we’re on a roll. Get great work! Check. Pay your writers! Check. Share with others! Check. But as with any sophomore attempt, we feel the pressure with this second issue to be even better. So let us know how you think we’re doing.

From our very first essay publication by Kathryn Stagg, to B.D. Ferguson’s fantastic interview with Hamilton Literary Award winning novelist Marnie Woodrow, to Helena Rakic's inspiring images, we are chuffed about our content. We also have critical reviews of new Canadian books from stellar writers and reviewers including, among others, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Liz Worth, Bernadette Rule, and Kerry Clare.

Recently, Hamilton Review of Books had a great opportunity to work with the wonderful people at gritLIT during their 2017 festival, which took place April 6-9. During the event, we pulled some of the visiting writers aside and did some quick Proustian style audio interviews. You can find these on our gritLIT event page and listen to Merilyn Simonds, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ivan Coyote, and others answer questions such as, “If you could have any other job, what would it be?” You may be surprised by their answers.

And speaking of jobs, we at the journal have been doing a lot of thinking about our purpose, and the role of critics and publications like ours in CanLit. This year has been a challenging one for the literary community. Questions have been raised by writers about, among other things, the essential role of Indigenous People, the atrocities perpetrated on our refugees and immigrants, the realities of climate change, and the role that women’s words should have in literature and in life. The work of our critics – highlighting, evaluating, and challenging our writers’ efforts – seems more important than ever.

Margaret Atwood, in her acceptance speech for the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award in March 2017, really drilled into the role of criticism in our current climate:

And right now, what you do as critics is sorely needed…Never have there been so many attempts — from so many sides of the political spectrum — to shout down the voices of others, to obfuscate and confuse, to twist and manipulate, and to vilify reliable and trusted publications…

As independent critics, you are part of the barrier standing between authoritarian control and a pluralistic and open democracy. That barrier is always fragile, but at some times more than at others. Keep at your craft and sometimes sullen art, to misquote Dylan Thomas. Persist, despite the hazards.

And persist we shall. On May 25 at the Staircase Theatre in Hamilton, we’ll further the discussion on criticism by hosting an upcoming fundraiser starring a panel of outstanding writers, critics, and artists. Check out our website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram feeds for details on our fundraiser, “It’s Great and I Like It: What Happened to Criticism?” which will be moderated by Quill and Quire’s reviews editor Steven W. Beattie. 

As critics and writers, we fret over what we sometimes view as milquetoast responses to art in the media, eager for more thoughtful and rigorous criticism. We continually ask ourselves how to encourage our writers and artists while also challenging them to do better. If the role of the critic, as Margaret Atwood suggests in her speech, is essential, then we have a duty to care – for our authors, our history, our future, and our words. Critics are meant to perpetuate ideas and to guard against authoritarianism in a culture that seems to be increasingly resistant to open dialogue and the questioning of power. We hope that our discussion raises these topics and more and starts an ongoing conversation in the Hamilton community and beyond.