50th anniversary of The Malahat Review

Fine Arts, Humanities, Libraries

- Tara Sharpe

Outgoing editor John Barton in Malahat Review office at UVic in December 2017. Image: UVic Photo Services.

The first edition of The Malahat Review came off the presses the same year as Expo ’67 was in Montreal, the Canadian poet Eli Mandel won a Governor General’s literary award and the first moon landing was still two years away. This revered literary journal, housed at UVic since its inception and now celebrating its 50th anniversary, has served as a springboard for some of the most recognizable names in Canadian publishing.

The Malahat was the first to publish a short story by Canadian author Yann Martel, 14 years before he went on to win the Booker Prize for the international bestseller Life of Pi.

The journal dedicated an entire issue in 1977 to Margaret Atwood’s work—before she became internationally known and only five years after she published her pivotal survey of Canadian literature, Survival.

Poets such as Michael Ondaatje, Dionne Brand, Lorna Crozier and Patricia Young have frequently graced its pages.

Fifty years and counting

In its 50-year run, The Malahat has played a major role in the literary arts scene by publishing works of national and international writers, nurturing new and emerging talents, and presenting perceptive critical essays on literature and the visual arts.

“Publishing in The Malahat is a rite of passage for many writers, who feel that they have ‘arrived,’” says outgoing editor John Barton, who took over the role in January 2004. “The consistent quality of its content attracts the best writing and writers.”

Founding editors Robin Skelton and John Peter, then professors in the Department of English at UVic, established the journal in 1967. The Faculty of Humanities has supported it over its history, with the Faculty of Fine Arts providing additional funding in recent years.

“Over the last 50 years, The Malahat has been at the forefront of literary culture in Canada, publishing the very best in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction,” says Dean of Humanities Chris Goto-Jones. “Both faculties are proud to continue supporting this iconic magazine and to join in the celebrations of its semi-centennial.”

Skelton was its first editor, a well-known poet and founding chair of the creative writing department at UVic. Initially carrying the subtitle “An International Magazine of Life and Letters,” the journal at first reflected Skelton and Peter’s backgrounds and connections in the international literary community, with the first edition a cosmopolitan collection including a selection of previously unpublished letters written by D.H. Lawrence.

The journal is very much a national icon now and echoes the exponential increase in stature of Canadian literature in recent decades.

Without The Malahat Review, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now. You have to start somewhere in whatever you do, and my first step as a real writer was with The Malahat Review.
—bestselling author Yann Martel, in his piece entitled "How the Words Came" for the UVic Libraries' commemorative publication

It has had six editors over its lifetime: Barton, Constance Rooke, Derk Wynand, Marlene Cookshaw, Skelton and Peter.

Recent themes have explored essential topics including: the environment ("Green Imagination" in 2008); the challenges of translations (“At Home in Translation” in 2014); "Indigenous Perspectives" in 2016; and the current 200th issue, a special 50th anniversary edition launched in November.

Commemorative limited-edition publication

A new commemorative publication, The Malahat Review at Fifty: Canada’s Iconic Literary Journal, was edited by Barton and produced by UVic Libraries as part of its imprint and publication series.

The limited-edition monograph highlights The Malahat’s achievements while looking forward to the future, and is richly illustrated with archival material from UVic Special Collections and University Archives.

Essays, critical commentaries and memoirs were provided by past and present editors, contributors and editorial board members—as well as nationally prominent writers with long associations with the journal—including Martel and UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers, as well as Phillip Kevin Paul, Nicholas Bradley, Wynand, Young, Eve Joseph, Jay Ruzesky, Eliza Robertson, Heather Dean, Jonathan Bengtson, Jan Zwicky and others.

“UVic Libraries is proud to showcase the 50th anniversary of The Malahat as part of our award-winning publication series devoted to our archives and special collections,” says UVic librarian and local poet Christine Walde who, as general editor of the series, led the commemorative project.

The publication was unveiled Jan. 25 and is also available online as a free, open access PDF.

New exhibition on journal’s visual identity

Also this month, a new exhibition—Landmarks: The Art of The Malahat Review, curated by Caroline Riedel of UVic Legacy Art Galleries and showcasing the role of art in the journal during its 50-year run—opens Jan. 25 in Legacy Maltwood, located on the lower level of the Mearns Centre for Learning – McPherson Library.

The synergy between art and literature is evident from The Malahat’s first decade, with works by internationally acclaimed artists including Andy Warhol, followed by the gradual introduction of west coast artists who in the 1960s and ‘70s were making their mark on the emerging modern art scene of Victoria and Vancouver. Since then, Canadian artists have dominated the visual identity of the journal.

The upcoming exhibition focuses in particular on works from the university’s art collection.

Other featured artists include Maxwell Bates, Robert De Castro, Glenn Howarth, P.K. Irwin, Davidee Kavik, Jack Kidder, Tony Hunt Sr., Elza Mayhew, Eric Metcalfe, Myfanwy Pavelic, Margaret Peterson, Bill Reid and Gordon A. Smith.

Anniversary edition launch party

On Nov. 8, the 200th anniversary edition launch party paid tribute to the local literary scene and artists—past, present and future—including with two previously unpublished poems from the late P.K. Page and creative nonfiction from painter Emily Carr.

A full table of contents of the anniversary edition is available online.

Find out more


In this story

Keywords: writing, literature, arts, publishing, English, The Malahat Review

People: John Barton, Robin Skelton, John Peter, Constance Rooke, Derk Wynand, Marlene Cookshaw

Related stories