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From the archives

The Trust Spiral

Restoring faith in the media

Dear Prudence

A life of exuberance and eccentricity

Who’s Afraid of Alice Munro?

A long-awaited biography gives the facts, but not the mystery, behind this writer’s genius

A Little Sincerity

A note from the editor-in-chief

Sarmishta Subramanian

Among my more vivid memories of my nerdish preteen years in the city then called Madras is of reading Oscar Wilde plays aloud with my mother. We read under fluorescent tube light in a house surrounded on three sides by sand and the Bay of Bengal, from a hardbound volume that now sits on her bookcase in Toronto. I knew nothing of Wilde’s tribulations then, or even that he was gay. I had only words on a page, mordantly funny and sharp. We chortled our way through The Importance of Being Earnest, then Lady Windermere’s Fan, then A Woman of No Importance, each playing a fleet of droll, witty characters.

Life bobs along on unseen currents, and many years later, when I made a documentary for CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition about my mother’s mother—in brief: married at ten, a mother at fifteen (and then again, five more times), she issued a “declaration of independence” from her husband at forty, got her master’s degree at seventy-seven, and become a celebrated author at seventy-nine—I called it “A Woman of No Consequence.” I was quoting my grandmother’s eye-rolling, faux-­humble description of herself, with a nod to Wilde.

While editing this issue of the LRC I found myself musing about strange, unobserved motifs—let’s call them life’s little Easter eggs, after those unexpected features that programmers slip into DVDs and video games. This magazine contains Gregory Mackie’s delightful review of a new Oscar Wilde biography by a Canadian scholar at Oxford, as well as a review by the brilliant Donna Bailey Nurse of The Wife’s Tale—a story told by a granddaughter, the journalist Aida Edemariam, of a grandmother who, it turns out, was married at eight and became a mother at fourteen (and then many times over), and who likewise issued a declaration of sorts to her husband.

Another recurring motif, one that bears further explanation: This issue marks the debut of a new column by longtime LRC contributor Andy Lamey. Readers of recent issues will remember Lamey’s masterful appraisal of David Frum, or his entertaining and erudite critical profile of John Metcalf last year. But Lamey’s history with the magazine goes much further back. He contributed his first article, on multiculturalism, in December 1995—indeed the first freelance piece he ever published, for a fee that certainly did not overinflate his bank account (zilch). In 1996 he became managing editor here, and for a few glorious months before the LRC was sold to Carleton University Press, he and fellow editor Jeet Heer (now at The New Republic) worked with the editor in chief, Patrice Dutil, also the LRC’s founder.

The magazine couldn’t afford an office, so they met at a coffee shop, and Lamey edited at his mother’s apartment on an ancient Mac that used floppy disks. He recalls one memorable experience where he cut all the footnotes out of a long article that was actually about footnotes and how extremely important they are (to the author’s great displeasure). In the intervening years he worked at The New Republic and the National Post; published a prescient book on the global refugee crisis (2011’s Frontier Justice); and settled into a job as a professor of philosophy at the University of California at San Diego. But he did not forget his early intellectual preoccupations any more than I apparently did mine, and he returns to the LRC, bringing his characteristic wit and perspicacity to a broad range of political and cultural subjects each month.

Penury is another motif we could mention here, and while the magazine’s fortunes have shifted since Lamey’s early days, the path of progress is seldom linear. In the not so distant past the LRC’s future was, again, more than a little tenuous: we saw a financial crisis last fall that left us in dire straits, and the departure of our publisher, designer, copy editor, and managing editor—two-thirds of the staff. It was a difficult time with a few bright moments: a fundraising party graciously hosted by the political columnist Paul Wells and lobbyist Lisa Samson in their Ottawa home; a lively event in Toronto featuring the historian Margaret MacMillan, hosted by our board chair, Jaime Watt. (Stay tuned for details on this year’s event in November, featuring a literary super-luminary.)

Nine months later, the LRC has emerged the stronger for all the change, and that is thanks in large part to you, our engaged and loyal community of readers and supporters. Longtime donors have come to our aid along with a host of new supporters, including many writers, who humbled us by giving financially on top of already contributing their excellent work. New funders, such as the Donner Canadian Foundation, joined our longstanding grantors, who’ve worked patiently with us through the transitions. We owe them all, and you, a debt of gratitude. We are paying it through action. The redoubtable Tom Kierans has joined our board as vice chair, and backing up the board is a committed and accomplished team of volunteer advisors. A search for a new publisher is in full swing, and we will approach the next phase with a vision to grow the LRC, and the expertise to achieve it.

On the editorial side, tumult has not kept us from charging ahead with a reinvigoration of the magazine. Articles published in the LRC won a gold and an honourable mention (Stephen Marche’s “Northern Shadows” and Ira Wells’s “The Age of Offence”) for Best Essay at the National Magazine Awards last month. A new focus on the visual side in 2018 culminates in the appointment this month of Rachel Tennenhouse as art director—the magazine’s first. A staff and freelance designer for Toronto Life, The Walrus, Chatelaine, Maclean’s, the National Music Centre in Calgary, et al., Rachel brings a wealth of talent and experience, and with degrees in architecture and digital arts, an enthusiasm for ideas that makes her a wonderful partner in this enterprise. She joins our assistant editor, Bardia Sinaee, an accomplished poet and writer, and our copy editor, the formidable Patricia Treble, formerly head of research at Maclean’s (and, in her other life, an in-demand authority on the monarchy), on a small but ferocious editorial team. And there is the aforementioned columnist—who, I had better break it to you, now claims the back page of the magazine. The Letters page moves to page 30. Maps are available on request.

Speaking of finding things, one last word on those Easter eggs. We spot them in the magazine often, small echoes and resonances that come out of nowhere—the word harridan, which appeared, implausibly, in two stories in the April issue; or Hannah Arendt, who elbowed her way into a string of pieces over a couple of issues. We’ve decided to celebrate rather than scratch our heads over these literary stowaways. Write to us or email with a list of the motifs you spot in this issue—the more obscure the ­better—and include your postal address. We’ll mail the respondent who can uncover the most Easter eggs a small prize. And we’ll take a cue from Wilde, as well as from this month’s cover story by Pasha Malla, when judging: Humour as much as close reading will be rewarded!

Sarmishta Subramanian was the editor-in-chief of the Literary Review of Canada from 2016 to 2018.