Writing In/During Crisis

What does it mean to be a writer in times of political and moral crisis? In the bleakest of times, writers help us make sense of our relationship to what’s happening in the world. Beyond the changing headlines or political discourse, the writer’s reflections get us to a deeper insight of human experience. When it seems that language buckles under the unbearable weight of mass violence—via headlines and soundbites repeated over and again so that we become stupefied by the endless breaking news—it is still writers that we turn to. We need them as both witness and chronicler, and to remind us that above all, it is the telling of human stories that matter.

In the final poem before his death in an Israeli airstrike, Palestinian writer Refaat Alareer emphasizes that a precondition of living, of being alive, is to use one’s voice and become a narrative for others. This is no easy task, especially when language itself is censored or weaponized. The default recourse is silence. But silence does not mean that we stop feeling, knowing, or perceiving. Writing cannot be divorced from the world, because we, no matter how hard we try, cannot stop being part of a collective humanity capable of so much horror as well as so much beauty. Indeed, we understand the power of the written word when it bridges us to the peoples and places beyond ourselves.

It is in this spirit that we’ve asked some previous contributors to The New Quarterly and writers we love, to ruminate on their different experiences of finding (and losing) language in the face of heartbreak and human devastation. The essays in this special dispatch are themed around “the writer during times of crisis.”

Asking writers to write about this historical moment can be difficult, contentious, and risky, which is precisely why we need to hear the voice of others for mutual understanding. In doing so, The New Quarterly, as a magazine, is not setting out to make political statements or to endorse any specific political critique; rather, we seek to provide a much-needed literary forum for individual writers to exercise their freedom—their right—to express their understanding of the situation as they see it. In providing this forum our intention is, as per our mandate, to make space for Canadian writers to discuss their craft and writerly processes—in this instance, the difficulties of finding voice during a horrific time. As a literary magazine, our purpose is to facilitate writers in grappling with complex ideas and positions.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with an individual author’s ideas, we hope that you consider them, first and foremost, as serious expressions of the author’s situated subjectivity and their unique ways of seeing the world. As you will see, there’s a range of impassioned viewpoints, insights, criticisms, and emotions. We hope, as you read, that you enter into conversation with these authors, to debate them and reconsider your own thinking, to challenge what is known and ask further questions. We hope you feel something.

We ask that you read this dossier as a whole. While each piece stands as an independent expression, each expression is expanded, emphasized, challenged, nuanced, and transformed when read in relation to the entire omnibus. A forum is by definition a multiplicity of voices, and it requires an engagement with the many.

We are hopeful that, at times like this, it is writers who can help us all make sense of things. We hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

January 15, 2024

Pamela Mulloy and Vinh Nguyen