Editor’s Rant #1

By Maurice Mierau

Recently I spent an afternoon in a lavish and grotesquely oversized hotel meeting room, for a consultation commissioned by the municipal arts council. For this session, the “stakeholders” were Winnipeg artists from various disciplines.

The consultants, from Toronto, were casually but splendidly accoutered, with the principal wearing tasteful gold bling and her assistant in muted blues with a sprinkling of beard. The expense of their gleaming dental work would have made Martin Amis blush. The artists present looked distinctly less glam.

At one end of the room a screen displayed elaborate Powerpoint slides. Using this visual aid, the principal consultant explained why Winnipeg has a vibrant artistic community. The vibrancy, the vibe, she said, results from a strategic plan written a number of years ago. And from our low cost of living. She would descend from the Mountain of Consulting Insight with a similar visionary document shortly after talking to us stakeholders.

Illustration by Dale Cummings

This first issue of The Winnipeg Review descends from no mountainous insight. I believe, speaking for this magazine, that all artistic vitality comes from artists, not from strategic plans, or cheap rent, government grants, or a Harperite vision of cultural trickle-down through tax deductions for kids’ piano lessons. Our point of view is probably shaped by the great flatness of isolated geographical and psychological space we inhabit here, in the middle of the country and the continent. Floods, cold, and inappropriate ambitions have made us cantankerous and contrarian.

Our self-imposed mandate is to publish reviews, mostly of literary fiction, with an editorial emphasis that reflects this place. Winnipeg is a city that has been home for many distinct literary voices: David Bergen, Miriam Toews, Patrick Friesen, Joan Thomas, George Amabile, Carol Shields, Chandra Mayor, Struan Sinclair, Melissa Steele, Warren Cariou, Margaret Sweatman, Méira Cook and Barbara Romanik, to name just some. None of these voices came from a stakeholder meeting. Neither will this magazine.

The Winnipeg Review is committed to reviewing literary books from across Canada and occasionally from other places. Our reviews will be tough-minded, and not acts of mutual self-congratulation orchestrated among insiders. We will be selective in our coverage, and always interested in books that are not on the radar of the so-called national media in Toronto.

Frederick Exley’s remarks about book reviewing in A Fan’s Notes match the editorial credo I’m espousing:

There was a period when I had lived on book reviews, when I had basked and drawn sustenance from what I deemed the light of their intelligence, the beneficence of their charm. But something had gone sour. Over the years I had read too much, in dim-lighted railway stations, lying on the davenports of strangers’ houses, in the bleak and dismal wards of insane asylums. That reading had forced the charm to relinquish itself. Now I found that reviews were not only bland but scarcely, if ever, relevant; and that all books, whether works of imagination or the blatant frauds of literary whores, were approached by the reviewer with the same crushing sobriety. I wanted the reviewer to be fair, kind, and funny. I wanted to be made to laugh.

As editor, I hope you’ll be amused and stimulated by this new venture. In addition to reviews, readers will also find columns, interviews, excerpts of fiction and non-fiction, poetry, and articles. And the occasional review of something other than books: theatre, film, visual art, etc. New material will appear every week.

This first issue introduces Dale Cummings, our featured caricature artist, and several of our columnists, including Byron Rempel writing from Quebec and Alexander Foot from the wine shop, as well as new poems by Alison Calder, and a short story excerpt by Richard Van Camp. Some of our reviewers include Shane Neilson, Alison Gillmor, Melissa Steele, Victor Enns and Jonathan Ball.

Vitriolic and other letters can be sent here. Please be sure to enter our Bad Sex in CanLit contest. Potential writers can query us here. Look for us on Twitter, where we’ll deliver insight 140 characters at a time. Remember that houses are still relatively cheap in Winnipeg. And yes, there is sex in Winnipeg, and art too.


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Articles

Interviews

  • Revealing Open Secrets: An Interview with Charles Baxter

    Interviewed by Maurice Mierau

    Charles Baxter is a distinguished and prolific American fiction writer, critic, and teacher. He is the Edelstein-Keller Professor at the University of Minnesota. Gryphon: New and Selected Stories will be published in January. MORE >

New Work

Excerpts

  • Love Walked In

    By Richard Van Camp

    The horror show began the exact second I told the truth. This was right after Janette came to town. Single Mom. Body of a stripper.

    Kevin was like, “Check out the yummy mummy.” MORE >

Book Reviews

  • ‘The Matter with Morris’ by David Bergen

    Reviewed by Shane Neilson (originally posted Dec. 28, 2010)

    Who doesn’t love a good nervous breakdown? Morris Schutt, fifty-one, at the age when his father lost his wife, and when he has lost his son to war, has some breaking down to do.

    Schutt abandons his secure life as a Winnipeg newspaper columnist and goes to ground: he liquidates all his assets into cash and stores the money in his apartment, MORE >

  • ‘Quiver’ by Holly Luhning

    Reviewed by Michelle Berry

    I really like food.  I like food when I’m happy and feel well. I like food when I’m sad or sick. There are not many things that can make me stop eating. At least that’s what I thought until I read Quiver, Holly Luhning’s first novel.
    MORE >

  • ‘Ilustrado’ by Miguel Syjuco

    Reviewed by Jonathan Ball

    ‘No lyric has ever stopped a tank,’ so said Seamus Heaney. Auden said that ‘poetry makes nothing happen.’ Bullshit! I reject all that wholeheartedly! What do they know about the mechanics of tanks? How can anyone estimate the ballistic qualities of words? Invisible things happen in intangible moments. What should keep us writing is precisely that possibility of explosions.

    MORE >

  • ‘The Sentimentalists’ by Johanna Skibsrud

    Reviewed by Alison Gillmor

    The publishing story is sensational: Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel, The Sentimentalists, was published by Gaspereau Press, a small regional publishing house, in an initial print run of 800 exquisite hand-printed books. Then Skibsrud became the youngest author to win the prestigious Giller Prize, and no one could get hold of her novel. MORE >