Monday, April 19, 2010


Over the weekend the Bookman caught up with the editor of The International Literary Quarterly, Peter Robertson, (pic right), and asked him about the journal he founded and his plans for a special New Zealand edition.

1.  How did The International Literary Quarterly come about, and what is the philosophy that drives it?

Before I founded The International Literary Quarterly ( in November 2007, I was an Associate Editor of a New York publication. I was involved with this review for over a year. On my departure, my initial idea, as a Scot, was to launch a Scottish literary review, but the more I dwelt on that possibility, the more I came to see that such a publication would not be an extension of what I had lived and learnt, that it would not reflect my philosophy of life that had been shaped radically by my residence in many other countries-- England, Norway, Spain and Argentina. This international perspective galvanized me into launching a literary review that would not be delimited by any nationalist concept but would be inclusive and would bring people together on the same page. There are too many cliques, too many narrow agendas, and, so far as I am concerned, they all do a disservice to literature.
2. What made you decide to do a special New Zealand issue?


It so happened that two fine writers: Siobhan Harvey, who is from New Zealand; and Kapka Kassabova, (pic left - Sunday Times), who spent many years there, contributed to Interlitq’s latest issue. Reading their work, it was borne in on me that there is considerable literary talent coming out of New Zealand. I also had to acknowledge that, beyond Katherine Mansfield, whom as a student I had read extensively, and also Antony Alper’s very fine biography of Mansfield, I knew little or nothing about New Zealand’s literature, and I was keen to discover more. And, beyond these considerations, I was also struck by what I perceived to be that country’s geographic isolation, perhaps analogous to that of Argentina, a country I have lived in for more than a decade. I do tend to think that even in this age of instant communication and mass travel, this self-perception of isolation can be an immense cultural factor. The Argentine psyche appears to be prey to such a feeling and, technological advances notwithstanding, there is still a prevailing sentiment, in W.H. Hudson's words, of lives played out “long ago and far away”. In any case, by launching this feature, I have resolved that Interlitq will be instrumental in promoting New Zealand's literature, ensuring that it will be read all over the world.
 3.  What kinds of work are you primarily looking to showcase in the New Zealand issue?  Are you particularly looking for stories or poems with a distinctive NZ flavour, or more for work that reflects the talent of NZ authors without limiting them to a NZ setting?

There is no need for writers to confine themselves to New Zealand settings as local colour is not the priority. In any case, surely the best writing embodies a universality. Returning to Argentina, I find that much of the contemporary writing there is diminished by the glorification of the local, pages are often strewn with the names of streets and buildings, but what if one has never been to these places and no memory is evoked? To write that such an event occurred at the intersection of one street and another bespeaks an insular approach and pales into insignificance when compared to a topography that is portrayed symbolically. In the hands of a master, the local and the universal are instantly fused.  

4.  When do you expect the NZ issue to be released?

We had originally scheduled the New Zealand feature for 2011 but we are now considering bringing it forward to 2010, with a launch event to be held in that country. And I must say here that I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response of New Zealand writers to this venture, with submissions continuing to come in thick and fast. And let me add that, as you may already be aware, Jill Dawson, (pic right - Derek Thompson), a fine writer and Interlitq’s Deputy Editor, will be attending the 2010 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival this May, and I am confident that her trip will generate additional interest in our New Zealand feature.  
5.  Do you see the internet as becoming an increasingly important medium for authors to gain readership?

The Internet is already a key player due to its “massiveness”, it has proved itself. And yet, quite incredibly, I continue to meet writers who are dead-set against Web publication. And it is not just a case of a rearguard action being fought by certain authors. Even certain grant-making organizations would appear to prefer to finance a paper-publication, even a chapbook read by thirty people, to an on-line publication read by thousands. In this connection, let me say, perhaps controversially, that I believe there to be a common objective here: to ensure that the elitism of literature is preserved.

6.  What do you personally find rewarding about editing The International Literary Quarterly?

This question is inextricably bound up with the previous one given that my overriding objective is to harness the Internet to ensure that literature, which at its best is this great civilizing force, is made more readily available to all. To this end, Interlitq has already published in 82 different languages and we are about to publish in many more. I hope it will not sound like too grandiose a claim to state that I hope that the review is playing its part in a new "internationalism" of literature, celebrating the common ground that we all share; and this in an age when many factions are intent on playing up differences, so as to drive us further apart from each other. 

 7.  Do you find that your editing work primarily hinders or enhances your own writing?

It is not so easy because my workload with Interlitq is very intensive and I find little or no time right now to return to my own writing. And, naturally, this is a source of frustration to me because there is so much that I want to write, and in the relatively near future--fiction, journalism, literary translation. But the unremitting work of the last two and a half years has been necessary in order to launch and consolidate Interlitq. In any case, backed up by the invaluable assistance of the review's Editorial Board, I am fully committed to the review’s continued growth, and to engaging with many new challenges. And, anyway, I would never have been fully satisfied with a cloistered life—the idea of literary fraternity is one that is close to my heart. Returning once again to the theme of isolation, this is often not only perceived culturally but also personally. I like to think that Interlitq will play an important role in helping to break down what surely constitutes one of the occupational hazards of the writer. 

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