A lot has happened in the decade since the Sydney Review of Books was founded. Digital publishing platforms have successfully established themselves as the legitimate peers of their print counterparts. A national cultural policy has finally been tabled after years of austerity and not-so-salutary neglect. Reviews and reviewers themselves are under increasing scrutiny as recognition of the impetus that criticism gives to creative writing becomes more widespread.
It’s an extraordinary privilege to address you as editor of a journal that has not only borne witness, but also contributed to these significant changes. I’m incredibly grateful to James Ley for laying such strong foundations and to Catriona Menzies-Pike for her expert and indefatigable stewardship of the journal, through Covid and much else, over the past eight years. I was fortunate enough to have been edited by Catriona and can testify to the generosity and acuity of her work with writers; it’s hard to think of a more complete model of editorial integrity. The forthcoming anthology celebrating the journal’s first ten years will be a small but fitting testament to the ecumenicism and ingenuity Catriona fostered at the SRB, and I, for one, can’t wait.
A new team will now take the helm of the Sydney Review of Books. Alongside me are Dr Melinda Jewell, the journal’s coordinator, and Huyen Hac Helen Tran, our digital communications officer. Since its inception, the SRB has been based in the Writing & Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University and we will continue to enjoy the support and counsel of our friends and colleagues there.
What can readers expect in this new phase? The journal will continue to publish some of the most searching, sophisticated, and stimulating reviews and essays by a diverse spectrum of writers, both established and emerging, from across the country. It will continue to give coverage to the full gamut of writing being produced in Australia, from popular fiction and memoir to academic monographs and avant-garde poetry. It will continue to trace the changing contours of ‘the Australian face’ (as the very first SRB anthology was called).
But as the public life in which literature intervenes changes, so will the SRB. Recognition of First Nations sovereignty will require not only an amendment to the constitution, but also an act of political re-imagination that literature, as a domain where writers exercise what Alexis Wright has so eloquently called ‘sovereignty of mind’, will play a major role in instigating. As such, the Sydney Review of Books will redouble its efforts to centre First Nations expertise and cultural rigour (to borrow Jeanine Leane’s phrase) in both our programming and organisation.
The establishment of Writers Australia and a poet laureateship will also reshape the institutional landscape for literature, with scope for greater inclusivity, access, and visibility. In particular, we hope the appointment of a poet laureate will help poetry regain its rightful share of public attention as the genre in which some of the country’s most adventurous writing, playful and exacting, is being accomplished. Our critical culture should reflect and honour this. Genre parity is an ideal that will help steer our commissioning.
As one of the few born digital literary journals in Australia, the Sydney Review of Books will also become a forum for thinking about the futures of digital writing. What experimental techniques will large language models place in the hands of writers? What presumptions about authorship and creativity will this technology force us to question? What effect will it have on intellectual property rights and the economics of publishing? The answers to these questions will evolve as quickly as the technology itself.
Like Catriona, I first came to the journal as a reader. I hope it’s not too self-serving to say that over the years I’ve had more conversations about essays in the Sydney Review of Books than about articles in any other publication. However anecdotal, this, to me, is no small measure of success since maintaining a critical culture is not just the job of a select few writers and editors, but rather a collective responsibility. Long may it continue.
Best wishes and happy reading,