Australian Book Review, which enjoys the warmest relations with other Australian literary magazines, rarely comments on the vicissitudes of other publications, but clearly there is no such convention in Britain.
There was a good example in the November 5 issue of the London Review of Books when Stefan Collini, the Cambridge don and regular LRB contributor, offered a potted history of the Times Literary Supplement since its creation in 1902 and wrote about the ‘vigorous spate of new-broomism’ visited on the magazine by Stig Abell, who became editor of TLS in 2016. Abell’s new design and general makeover have resulted in fewer reviews, more articles ‘confessional or narrative in form’, and even a full-page cartoon, which would have looked most incongruous in the decorous TLS of Ferdinand Mount or Peter Stothard.
Now, abruptly, Abell is gone – off to run Times Radio – and Martin Ivens, former editor of The Sunday Times, is the new editor of TLS. Other changes have ensued, Collini reports, with a trace of LRB-ish schadenfreude: ‘Alan Jenkins, the widely respected deputy editor, left a few months ago, and now other long-serving staff are being made redundant, amid rumours of unsustainable losses.’
Even J.C. – author of the indispensable back-page news column ‘NB’ for the past twenty years – has left. Writing in his final column on September 18, Joseph Campbell was his usual forthright self: ‘Did we poke fun at pomposity, hypocrisy and plain stupidity? Yes, but we never suggested that someone should be removed from a post – such as editor of Poetry (Chicago) – for committing a fault that merely goes against current trends.’
Here, J.C. was alluding to the removal of the widely admired Don Share, editor of Poetry since 2013, after yet another example of ‘cancel culture’, all too readily heeded by the ‘immensely wealthy Poetry Foundation’ that runs what has long been considered the world’s pre-eminent poetry journal.
In a closing blast, J.C. reflected on these sour and punitive eliminations:
The most dramatic change in the literary atmosphere during our stewardship [of NB] is this: from the 1920s through to the Lady Chatterley trial and beyond, it was the legal and political authorities who tried to ban books and restrict freedom of expression. Radicals and rebels fought against the very act of banning. Prohibitions on speech and publication now arrive from the identity-conscious children of those same radicals, leaving it to the law to protect the freedom of the imagination.
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Goodbye to all that
And so, a year like no other draws to a close amid constitutional mayhem in the United States, appalling rates of coronavirus infection throughout much of the world (though not in Australia, happily), and promising auguries of liberating vaccines.
Back in March, as the gravity of the pandemic sank in, ABR – like every other arts organisation in the country – had every reason to be anxious about its future viability, especially when we learned that the Australia Council had decided not to continue funding ABR in the 2021–24 round. (We had much to say about the folly of that decision and about the Council’s new pusillanimity towards the magazine sector. So did countless ABR readers, who made their feelings of incredulity and dismay very clear to the Council and to the relevant federal minister.)
Notwithstanding these blows – or perhaps because of them, in a stubborn, resolute way – it has proved to be an exceptional year for the magazine, one that leaves us sanguine about the future. Here are some of the highlights:
- subscriptions rose by 27% (43% digital, 16% print)
- positive responses to new commentary material
- thirty-five new ABR Patrons
- widespread interest in the new ABR Podcast
- record fields for our three literary prizes
- website page views increased by 110%
- Declan Fry became the third ABR Rising Star
- major expansion of the digital archive
This year we have published a total of 306 reviewers, authors, and commentators from around the country. Ninety of them were new to the magazine, a measure of ABR’s continuing openness to new voices and emerging writers of all kinds. We thank them all and we look forward to working with a similarly diverse, protean cohort in 2021.
It’s good to be able to report that a year that seemed likely to shake the organisation to its core has proved bolstering and transformative. Here, I particularly want to thank ABR’s small team – Amy Baillieu (Deputy Editor), Jack Callil (Digital Editor), Grace Chang (Business Manager), and Christopher Menz (Development Consultant) – whose commitment and resilience have been exemplary. I’m also grateful to the ABR Board, especially Sarah Holland-Batt, who became Chair in April.
The ABR team looks forward to bringing you another year of fine literary journalism and creative writing – with some new twists. (We’ll be announcing a major new project in the New Year – a significant add-on for readers and contributors alike.)
Meanwhile, enjoy the summer, thanks for your solidarity, and stay well!