Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature! An Interview with Descant Magzaine Editor-in-Chief Karen Mulhallen

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Karen Mulhallen

This Wednesday, Descant Magazine will celebrate 45 years of publishing at a farewell party that promises to see the magazine off in style.

Descant is now in its fifth decade of publishing exciting work from contemporary Canadian and International visual artists, including the likes of Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley and Isabel Allende. In December, the news that Descant's upcoming issue would be its last was met with shock and sadness in the literary community. Many are sharing their thoughts and feeling about what Descant has meant to them on Twitter using the hashtag #BecauseofDescant.

Karen Mulhallen has been Descant's Editor-in-Chief since the sixth issue. Today she speaks with Open Book about how a shy hanger-on became the Editor of a literary journal, a favourite Descant piece that will be read at the farewell party and the legacy she hopes Descant will leave behind.

Open Book:

What role has Descant played over the past five decades for Canadian writers and readers?

Karen Mulhallen:

Descant has been an incubator for writers and visual artists from Canada and the world. Artists need to see their work alongside other artists. We provide that opportunity and encourage them to grow in their art.


How did you come to be Editor-in-Chief at Descant? How has your role evolved over the years?


Initially I was a shy hanger-on, too shy to let my work be published. That changed by the third issue when I became assistant editor. After that for Number 6, the other editors had gone on to greener pastures, e.g. law school and journalism, and so I began at the founders’ urging as Editor-in-Chief.


What does Descant’s closure mean for the literary community in our country?


I think it is a disaster. We have published thousands of artists and grown and shaped the culture. Our governments are cutting funding to the arts. This is a cause for concern. But I am also hopeful. Many of our interns are starting new magazines and the technology is there for them to make this possible without significant subventions.


What can you tell us about the farewell celebration?


It should not be missed. Many generations of Descanteers will take the stage in celebration of our decades and of the arts in this country. I was in the George Brown House office today and found a very early edition of Descant with Robert Priest’s work in it. Robert is an amazing artist. He will take the stage for all of us. And there will be nearly a dozen more on stage Wednesday, March 25, at 7 PM at Revival on College Street.


Could you share with us a bit about a favourite piece that you’ve published?


This is a hard question. Like all writers I tend to be committed to the latest moment. Today, in our office, looking over our issues and our covers, I was struck by the diversity of our publishing. I think the magazine challenged me into new areas. I loved our North Africa issue, our Hotels issue, our Hidden City issue. The list could go on and on. We collaborated with the AGO on an issue devoted to writers writing about pictures. Anne Michaels poem on Tom Thomson was in that issue. She will read it on the stage on the 25th. It is a spectacular poem in every way.


What is your biggest hope for the legacy and impression that Descant will leave behind?


Faith and a belief in the human imagination. The importance of working together, of growing the culture across generations and across the globe. The importance of placing our artists– writers and visual artists–in an international context. These are values our editorial collective has espoused and I believe in them profoundly.

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