Thursday 28 July 2016

Lion City Lit: Quarterly Literary Review Singapore

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Here Lucía Damacela continues her occasional series of conversations with founders and editors of Singapore-based online literary magazines. Today, the focus is on the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, (QLRS), the longest- running online literary magazine in the country.

Started in 2001, the QLRS is, and has always been, published by a group of volunteer writers with a shared vison: “to promote the literary arts in Singapore, to stimulate the feedback mechanisms in the literary scene, and to develop Singaporean writers to international standards.”
The magazine is organised into different sections: poetry; short stories; essays; criticism; interviews. There are two portmanteau sections: extra media, for anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else in the magazine, and the acid tongue, which carries particularly caustic reviews.
QLRS, issued in January, April, July and October of each year, accepts submissions on a rolling basis. It is open to receiving unpublished material from Singaporean and international writers but is keen on writing relevant to Singapore. The two issues so far published this year include writers from Singapore, Australia, India, The Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Contributors range from award-winning authors with an extensive publication portfolio, to college students starting their writing careers. Interviews include conversations with notable local and international writers such as Alvin Pang, Edwin Thumboo, Christian Bӧck, Christopher Merrill, Robert Pinsky, and many more.

Singaporean poet Toh Hsien Min, founder and member of the editorial team, answered a few questions.

The world of online literary magazines is highly competitive and constantly changing. What factors could account for QLRS’s longevity and continued relevance?
Our longevity is partly because the editors are passionate about running QLRS as a service to the literary community in Singapore, and partly because we have an established system to keep us going - every quarter, everyone in the team knows what they have to do.  As for relevance? Well, it’d be best if someone else answers that!

Can you tell me about the Singapore online literary magazine scene in the early years of the century?
The 2nd Rule got going at around the same time as us, and ran until 2008. They had a more alternative feel, and are still missed.
What sorts of work, and what sorts of writer, do you strive to publish?
We’re really just looking for great writing. In the creative sections, surprise is irresistible.  For the critical sections, we look for critics to take up and defend a point of view. We don’t really try to pre-judge or dictate closely the type of work that gets published; rather, by keeping an open mind and judging work only on account of quality rather than taxonomy, we hope to mirror what our community thinks is important.  I’m using the term "our community" loosely, of course, with no reference to geography, because our readers haven’t ever been limited to Singapore, even if people here account for a large proportion of our audience.  We’re also not hugely into pushing individual authors, as opposed to presenting an arena for all authors to use, if they so choose.

When you launched the magazine, did you set out to fill a particular niche within the literary field in Singapore?
No. It wasn’t an especially crowded space when we started, so there wasn’t really a need to define any kind of niche.  I actually wanted the journal to provide a space for critical activity, but then also thought that it should evolve into whatever the literary community wanted it to be. 

What are the current challenges and opportunities for literary journals in Singapore?
Possibly coping with the changing way people engage with online material?  But we consciously don’t want to go down the ten-second Instagram route.