When the Sydney Review of Books first appeared, Editor James Ley told an interviewer:

Good books can die from neglect. For serious critical writing to thrive, critics need to be given the time and the space that might allow them to respond to books in considered ways.

Since its launch in January 2013, the SRB has provided a forum for smart, robust discussion about hundreds of books, poetry collections and topics of literary and cultural interest. So far, we have published 137 essays that help not only keep good books and ideas alive, but which oxygenate cultures of reading and thinking about literature through the art of criticism and the long-form review essay.

It is with some delight then that we launch our newly expanded newsletter. With over 2000 subscribers and more than 14000 unique visitors to our website every month, we thought it was time to widen the conversation about literary culture. Our new format will continue to alert you to the essays and reviews we are publishing, but we are also making space for a weekly round-up of literary news and events. We will be rallying around important moments and responding to issues that affect literature and the arts more broadly. Much of our content will be Australian, but big international happenings will not escape our attention. We will also be highlighting our growing archive of essays, reviews and commentaries. As this week’s archive shows, rigorous criticism has the power to contribute to literary debate long after the first moment of publication.

The changes to our newsletter come in the midst of a newsworthy time in the Australian arts scene, and literature generally. No one will have missed the news of Tuesday’s budget or last night’s vigorous reply from Bill Shorten. The arts sector is still coming to terms with the cuts, which reduced funding for the arts by over $100 million, including a reduction in funding to the Australia Council of $28 million over four years. The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards seem safe for now, but there is uncertainty about their future. One program that has conclusively been axed is Get Reading – the annual nationwide reading campaign developed through the Australia Council, and previously supported by the Australian Government.

Perhaps an antidote to the budget gloom was yesterday’s widely anticipated announcement of the Miles Franklin shortlist. The final nominees for 2014 are My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor, All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, The Swan Book by Alexis Wright and Eyrie by Tim Winton. There is history to be made here. If Winton wins, it will be the fifth time for the iconic Australian writer, overtaking Thea Astley who won four times. Flanagan, however, is the widely-tipped favourite. This week we are delighted to feature essays on four of the six short-listed writers in From the Archive.

May is also festival month. Next Monday, May 19, the Sydney Writers’ Festival opens with its workshops and regional events. The official opening is Tuesday night, 20 May, with Andrew Solomon who will be talking about experiences emerging from his research for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. (You can re-read Miriam Cosic’s essay on the book.) The Emerging Writers’ Festival runs from 27 May  to 6 June in Melbourne, and then further afield, for us at least, is WordStorm 2014, the Top End’s biannual literary festival, which will be held in Darwin from 29 May–1 June.

As Charlotte Wood writes in today’s feature essay: ‘A great book is one which leads it readers away from the worn path of what they already know, to a wild and unfamiliar place where new logics and understandings can take hold.’ Smart, engaged and rigorous criticism also has power to give voice to the wilds. In ‘I have had my vision’, Wood reflects on the art of editing and the creative, beneficial, often affirming collaborative relationship that can develop between writer and editor, while Geoff Page’s review essay compares and contrasts the work of two significant Australian poets, Kathryn Lomer and Jennifer Maiden.

We hope you continue to enjoy reading the Sydney Review of Books. Please let us know what you think of the site and the essays. You can contact us via Twitter or Facebook, or you can write to James Ley, editor@sydneyreviewofbooks.com. If you would like to feature an event on our newsletter, please contact Rachel Morley, rachel@sydneyreviewofbooks.com.