The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: January 2012

Cairo Chameleon

On the anniversary of Egypt's awakening, journalist Paul Wilson ponders the aftermath of popular uprisings
Photograph by Roger LemoyneRoger LemoyneOn June 2, 2011, demonstrators in Tahrir Square rest on the tracks of a tank

Today marks the first anniversary of the protest movement that forced Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (and his attendant thugs) from power. Last year, journalist Paul Wilson, a former editor of The Walrus, travelled to Tahrir Square and its environs to report on the state of the Egyptian people for the magazine. Here, he reflects on what change has come to the country — and what remains to be done.

JULIE BALDASSI: In 1989, you witnessed anti-Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe; decades later, you travelled to Cairo to write about the Arab Awakening for The Walrus (“Adrift on the Nile,” October 2011). Did you participate in these revolutions as an activist, as well as a journalist? Do you think it’s possible, and furthermore, important, to be non-partisan and objective as a journalist?

PAUL WILSON: I think you have to keep those two aspects — the activist and the journalist — separate when you’re on the job, otherwise readers will have a reason not to trust you. It’s something deeply embedded in the culture of Western journalism: there’s a powerful taboo against reporting on something you’re personally involved in. That’s the territory of memoir, not reportage.

But it’s a professional separation, not a personal one. It doesn’t preclude your sympathizing with — or viscerally opposing — a cause you are writing about. When you’re reporting a story as complicated, as far-reaching, and as full of huge, life-changing emotions as the collapse of communism or the Arab Awakening, you need to be open to many different sources of information, because what you’re after — what you’re trying to give the reader — is a complex understanding of what’s happening. Sympathy, the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes, is a tool of understanding. So is scepticism. I see objectivity in journalism as more of a technique than an ideal state of mind. In any story of importance, it’s almost impossible to be truly objective. But telling the story is always more interesting and engaging, and probably closer to the truth, if you do your best to represent its different sides.  (more…)

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Posted in World Affairs  •  2 Comments

Publishing By Instinct, Rob Lowe, and the Art of Creating Bestsellers

Steve Rubin in episode six of a podcast series presented by our partners at Quill & Quire
Steve RubinDonna HolsteinSteve Rubin

Quillcast is a podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this episode, U.S. publishing executive Steve Rubin discusses the art of creating bestsellers in an industry in flux.

Rubin started his book-publishing career in 1984 as an executive editor at Bantam Books. In 1990, he was appointed president and publisher of Doubleday, and by 1995 was based in London as chairman and CEO of Bantam Doubleday Dell International. In 2009, he joined Henry Holt & Company as president and publisher. The authors he has published include John Grisham (The Firm), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), and Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall).

Rubin was in Toronto last year as a guest of the International Visitors Programme, which runs in conjunction with Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. He delivered this keynote to a packed house of industry professionals from Canada and around the world.

Listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.


Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund. Thank you to Juan Opitz, who generously recorded this podcast in his studio.

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Posted in Quillcast  •  No Comments

Live Stream: The Walrus Talks

Watch “The Art of the City” as it happens at Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo

Ninety minutes of lively, thought-provoking ideas featuring: Edward Burtynsky, Douglas Coupland, Mark Kingwell, Lisa Moore, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Noah Richler, Chris Turner, and Aritha van Herk.

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Posted in Cities  •  No Comments

In Defence of the Confession

How the literary establishment mistreats young, shameless writers like Marie Calloway
True Story

“I have the right to write about my life.” — Marie Calloway

Lately, a confusing debate has erupted over the validity of what is being called “confessional writing,” the kind that places its author and its author’s intimate experiences at the centre of the narrative. The modern confessional exists in transparent opposition to objective writing, where the writer is removed and reports narrative facts largely without opinion, and definitely without feeling. The proliferation of online sites that facilitate impromptu personal writing has cultivated a belief among the status quo that serious writers shouldn’t share an “excess” of personal details or opinions, lest they risk a public shaming. It’s certainly not uncommon in the Internet age to see a personal piece met with a clumsy, trolling comment chorus of “Keep that to yourself,” “TMI” or “Why should I care about your life?”

Additional indictments hurled at confessional writing are that it’s boring or embarrassing, although for whom is not entirely clear. Some critics have concluded that it is without exception bad writing, unworthy of publication, blanketing the form with disdain in hopes it will be forced back into the writer’s private documents folder. By even referring to it as a confession suggests that the author has done something wrong, that there is a central sin they should be repenting; at times, it seems the sin is merely in the act of telling: “How dare they?”

Exactly what differentiates the loathed confession from the lauded personal essay is difficult to name. But it’s impossible to ignore that a majority of these controversial and oft-dismissed confessions are being written by women — primarily young, under-published outsiders accused of lacking the self-awareness that presumably comes with age. The complaints suffered are often of the gendered variety, suggesting a naïveté on the part of the authors to be proud of documenting and distributing their experiences, much like web cam self-portraits posted on Facebook. The suggestion is that they are boring, reprehensible, or invalid in some way, and should never see the light of day. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  17 Comments

Rosemary Sullivan and Molito

Episode five of a podcast series presented by our partners at Quill & Quire
Juan Opitz and Rosemary SullivanJuan Opitz and Rosemary Sullivan

Quillcast is a podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this episode, Governor General’s Literary Award–winning author and poet Rosemary Sullivan speaks about her first children’s book, Molito, co-written with her husband, musician Juan Opitz, and illustrated by her sister, Colleen.

Known for her biographies of Margaret Atwood and Gwendolyn MacEwen, Sullivan is currently working on Stalin’s Daughter, a biography of Svetlana Stalina, which will be published in 2014 by HarperCollins Canada.

Listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.


Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund. Thank you to Juan Opitz, who generously recorded this podcast in his studio.

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Posted in Quillcast  •  2 Comments
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