Victoria-based Malahat Review celebrates 50 years of literary excellence

Since 1967, the Malahat Review has served as a rite of passage for young Canadian writers and this year it celebrates 50 years of publishing.

The founders of the literary journal exposed Canadian writers to a global audience

Editor John Barton holds the first edition of the Malahat Review, with a pile of the 50th-anniversary edition in front of him. (University of Victoria)

Since 1967, the Malahat Review has served as a rite of passage for young Canadian writers.

Now, in its 50th year of publishing, the story of the literary journal is being told through an exhibition at the University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries starting Jan 25.

Editor John Barton remembers studying under the magazine's creator, Robin Skelton, and how the standards impressed upon him during that time shaped how he approached his work as an editor for years.

"A magazine is really there to build confidence in writers and it's a mentorship in and of itself to be the editor of a magazine like this. The greatest part of it is working with the authors, to make them realize their ambitions in their work, to let them find themselves," Barton told North By Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

He edited the Ottawa-based Arc Poetry Magazine for 13 years and said he always held the Malahat as the golden standard.

Canadian authors worldwide

Skelton and co-founder John Peter, both English professors at UVic, created the magazine with the intention of exposing the world to Canada's talent.

"By publishing writers from around the world alongside Canadian writers they would create a bigger audience for Canadian writers worldwide." Barton said.

The Victoria-based literary journal celebrates 50 years of publishing with an exhibition at Legacy Gallery. (The Malahat Review/Facebook)

Margaret Atwood was part of that first issue after winning the Governor General's Award for The Circle Game.

In the 50 years since, the Malahat has published authors including Yann Martel, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 for his novel Life of Pi.

Martel's short story Mister Ali and the Barrelmaker was first published in the Malahat Review in 1988. Three years later his second publication in the magazine, the short story The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, won the 1991 Journey Prize.

"What I think we offer is, if necessary, excellent commentary on their work so they can improve it," Barton said, and quoted a line from Phyllis Webb's poem Pain: "I throw a bridge of value to belief."

"I think that is what I do for the writers that I publish, or any magazine publishes. We say, 'this is worthwhile,' and we affirm them in their belief of their own talent."

With files from the CBC's North By Northwest