Malala Yousafzai, Svetlana Alexievich and Shakespeare
I think of literary criticism as a conversation: an author speaks to an audience, which responds with comments, questions, sometimes praise, and sometimes disparagement. The discussion can last for centuries. In the case of Shakespeare, for instance, in 1592, early in his career, he was dismissed by fellow writer Robert Greene as an “upstart crow beautified with our feathers” and mocked as a “Shake-scene” (whatever that is).
Six years later, though, Francis Meres extolled the “mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare” with his “sugared sonnets” and other poems. So it began. The give-and-take with and about Shakespeare continues to the present, swelled to a colloquy among thousands of voices. But this can be a slow, deliberative process, given traditional modes of scholarship and publication. Even with modern writers, it may take years for the conversation to expand beyond brief notices and short reviews, to deeper, more considered opinions.
Not long ago, customers spoke to us at Gale about just this situation in connection with a pair of important contemporary writers: the Pakistani writer and activist Malala Yousafzai, author of I am Malala, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014; and the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, author of the groundbreaking narrative Voices from Chernoble, and the current Nobel laureate in literature. Our customers pointed out that, beyond short book reviews and profiles of the authors, there was almost no in-depth analysis and commentary available on these notable authors and their works. In reply, we turned to our editorial partners Layman Poupard Publishing and their extensive network of scholars and academics. They in turn responded within weeks with complete Literature Criticism Series-style author entries, including bio-critical introductions, bibliographies, and specially commissioned in-depth essays by subject matter experts, in addition to a selection of the best published commentary available. Our in-house team of editors, analysts, and programmers quickly launched e-first publications of these entries in Gale’s Literature Resource Center. What used to take years was accomplished in only a couple months.
The Malala Yousafzai and Svetlana Alexievich entries are being issued in Contemporary Literary Criticism, in Literature Criticism Online and print formats. Malala Yousafzai will appear in CLC-403 (releases 11/11/16) and Svetlana Alexievich will be included in CLC-405 (releases 1/6/17). The timeframes for these publications, too, are substantially shorter than traditional publication schedules. We hope by such efforts to help keep the conversations going.
We’re listening, too, to our customers for Shakespearean Criticism, who recently observed that, with its focus on individual plays and poems, SC does not include significant biographical information on the bard. A few short months later, and we’re issuing our response: SC-171 (releases 10/14/16) is devoted to Shakespeare’s biography–what is known of his life; the relationship between his life and his works; myths and theories regarding Shakespeare the person; and the cultural, political, and religious environments in which he lived. It’s a great idea, originating in exchanges with our users.
To my way of thinking, Gale’s relationship with our customers is also a conversation, an imparting of views, opinions, suggestions–and, yes, sometimes complaints. But as I’ve tried to show in the examples related here, our rejoinder, if you will, is to improve, to do something new and better. I hope we can keep such conversations going–whether on Gale’s offerings, on Malala, on Alexievich, or on Shakespeare. (This list now includes, of all things, a BBC sitcom with him as its central character, called Upstart Crow; I foresee a bout of binge watching in my very near future.) We’d love to hear what you have to say.
About the Author
Larry has been an editor at Gale for over 25 years, and loves doing deep research amid the library stacks. A recent vacation included a day set aside to explore the astonishing Burton Historical Collection at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library.