canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

So Long, Farewell, Adieu

June 2009

by Michael Bryson

With the publication of our June 2009 issue (fiction issue #27), The Danforth Review will be going on hiatus. 

Does this mean we are disappearing forever? It might. We're not sure yet. 

It doesn't mean that the magazine's editors are disappearing from cyberspace, however. I have been working on a new blog - and Nathaniel G. Moore is Nathaniel G. Moore. You can find us both on Facebook and Twitter and who knows where else.

I am hoping to devote more time to a novel in progress that is still a long way from being done, while also preparing for the launch of my third book of short fiction, The Lizard (Chaudiere Books, 2009).

It is 10 years since I started TDR. Then, I had recently completed the New Media Design Programme at the Canadian Film Centre and was about to see my first book in print. The magazine started as an extension of my website. Within a few years, it had its own URL and we started to get some funding from the Canada Council to pay writers. 

You can see past issues of TDR on the Library and Archives Canada website: TDR will be a permanent fixture there for future generations (assuming there are future generations).

TDR's first issue included a link to a CBC story about the imminent arrival of the digital book. A decade later, anxiety about the demise of books has reached a near fever pitch. Recent weeks have included stories in The Nation, Wired and The New York Times that suggest we may be reaching critical mass. A change may soon be upon us all.

Yet, I remain optimistic about books. I remain optimistic about literature. For TDR's final pre-hiatus fiction issue, we received over 300 submissions. People are writing. They are devoting themselves to the short story form as a means of expression and capturing meaning. Literature, I'm sure, will survive. 

That said, hand held reading devices will change things. How, I'm uncertain. A couple of months ago, I was in a bar with friends and one of them pulled out a hand held device and showed us all that it contained James Joyce's Ulysses. Why? Because it could. He'd downloaded the entire novel. Was he going to read the novel that way, or just use it to impress friends in bars? We'll have to wait and see.

When I started TDR, some writers I knew didn't want to submit work. They didn't think that online publication was "legitimate." How far we've come! 

But also not. 

Last spring, I went to the AGM of the Writers' Union of Canada, which included a workshop on literary magazines. But not one representative of an online magazine.

If asked, I would have said something along the lines of "the internet is one big magazine." The AGM was full of talk about blogs. Writers should have blogs to promote themselves! You must get online! And yet, social networking sites are making even blogs seem anachronistic. Is Twitter a kind of magazine? Is Facebook?

Probably not, but the business models of media companies are all over the map these days. Local television stations, popular magazines, newspapers (!); all kinds of "old media" are under stress and unlikely to survive in their current formats.

In recent years, I've been advice time and again to add RSS feeds, etc., to TDR. I resisted. It felt to me like TDR had evolved to where it was meant to be. In this fast-changing age, it was falling behind the curve. Maybe. Frankly, I didn't care. I didn't have time to care. I was too busy with my day job, getting married, parenting two step-children, trying to get on with my own writing. And all that jazz.

Editing TDR has been the biggest project I have ever been a part of. It has engaged me longer than any other relationship I've had, bar my family and a handful of select friends. It has introduced me to many wonderful people, who I have often met only through email. It has taught me many things about the tricky role of mediating literary conflicts, attempting to moderate literary conversation, and the difficulty of attracting an audience with something less provocative than controversy.

I will not say that "everyone loves a fight," but many do; fewer love attempts at enlightened engagement.

I will also not say that TDR always offered enlightened engagement. Sometimes our writers approached their subject with their elbows out. I wrote some sharp, prickly pieces, too, and sometimes regret doing so. I used to think that honesty overruled all other concerns. I have, however, landed in a place where I think the good one-liner is more often misleading, even if entertaining.

In the fall of 2001, I wrote an overview of the CanLit Online Scene for The Drunken Boat. I read it again recently and found broken links, references to defunct magazines, and a broad range of links from across the literary/publishing spectrum. As Roy MacSkimming told us, publishing is a perilous trade. Turnover is high; the industry in recent decades has been in a constant state of transformation. In my 2001 article, there is, of course, no reference to social media. There wasn't even BookNinja

But I think I got the broad, simple picture of the literary ecosystem right, and that hasn't changed substantially, I don't think. It's just become more fragmented, like every other media environment. Paradoxically, it's also increasingly become a zero sum game. Either your book wins big, or no one ever hears of it.

In 1992, Springsteen sang about 57 Channels (and nothing on), but all the texting and tweeting and following, etc., has opened a lot more than 57 channels. In 1985, Neil Postman argued we were Amusing Ourselves To Death, but the white noise has only grown since then.

In the mid-1990s, I saw John Metcalf at the Rivoli in Toronto. The New Quarterly had done a special issue on him. I was writing short stories and hoping to put a book together. In the way that only Metcalf can, that night he talked about how a Canadian author is lucky if his or her book sells 2,000 copies. I'm sure he said other things about how Canadians don't care about literature. Leon Rooke prodded him, too, about his position that government support led to literary mediocrity.

The arrival of Chapters and the demise of many independent booksellers only made finding readers more difficult for smaller presses. And yet, despite all of the peril, books continue to get published. Every season new authors find their works thrust into the world. Most sell well less than 2,000 copies. Literary publishing in Canada has become about micro-niche marketing. While the popular image of CanLit continues to consist of authors first made popular in the 1960s. Astonishing.

What I have enjoyed most about TDR, is reviewing the fiction submissions. Yes, many are redundant. Domestic situations. Childhood memories. Alien abductions. Sometimes, they seem interchangeable, the language in one hardly different from the language in another. On this point, I agree with Metcalf. The mark of good literature is the use of a distinct voice. Assured control over language used to tell a compelling story is a rare gift. I am always pleased when I see it. 

It has been a pleasure to read all of those stories, hundreds of them, and most pleasurableable to read the rare gems

I will be back, sometime, I'm sure of it, because of that.

Michael Bryson is the founding editor of TDR and does other things, too.




TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 

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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.