On the Ten-Year Anniversary of the Shipwrights Review

 

In 2007, when I coined the term “decentered English,” it seemed slightly daring. Now it seems to be an accepted term, recognized in Wikipedia for many years (thanks to my colleague and friend, linguistics professor Jean Hudson). In that time, the notion of polyglot authors in English has become almost normalized. This normalization is precisely what the term predicted, albeit implicitly. Nevertheless, Shipwrights is still the only magazine in the world dedicated specifically to second-language-English writers, and the number of those writers has been increasing steadily. 

Despite this coming together, this orienting of ourselves around a single language, the international climate of inclusion has not necessarily warmed. What seemed like a tendency towards integration just a few years ago has now become something very different. With Brexit and the rise of xenophobic nationalism in the U.S.A. and Europe, the world seems “decentered” in a much less healthy way than my term suggested. Yes, perhaps it’s a last gasp of the old guard. I hope so. It could, however, also be something much more dangerous. The hope of a harmonious, healthily-decentered future will depend on how the young people of the world choose to deal with the frictions of this moment. 

Despite the tensions, the promise of a lingua franca itself doesn’t seem to have been undermined. Indeed, the growth of English as the international online language, especially, seems unabated. And the promise of people communicating without language barriers does seem to continue to hold at least a trace of hope, although vigilance is required as we address a parallel concern: the loss of “smaller” languages in the world. (But that’s a topic for another day.) Further, the crumbling of language “barriers” doesn’t seem to have generated hope as measured by the continued failure of European nations to integrate newcomers or the demagoguery of a Donald Trump. 

And it seems there’s yet another dark side specific to our communication via a lingua franca, one that would never have been possible without the ease of communication afforded by a common tongue. The factionalizing of information and the new instability of facts have reached new and previously unimagined levels. It seems an unfortunate irony that the adeptness of second-language-English propagandists is what swayed the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It seems the young Russians who programmed the bots and memes that confused so many Americans are pretty good speakers of English. Ohioans and Alabamans never had a clue those memes had not been created by native English speakers. 

 

Yes, despite never having any real funding; despite our first few issues having been lost with the old Malmö University web system; despite my own relocation to a different continent – Shipwrights has survived ten years! In that time, we’ve published close to 100 short stories and about 150 poems, by authors from thirty to forty different countries. 

And while Shipwrights publishes the best work we can find, the best work submitted online from anyone anywhere, it’s important to acknowledge that the majority of the work we’ve selected over these ten years has been produced by students in the creative writing courses at Malmö University. These courses, which once seemed like crazy outliers in the English department, have tapped into a vein of European cultural demand: English language creative writing courses offered at a non-UK European university. I’ve heard that our Creative Writing 1 course is now the most applied-for course at Malmö University, perhaps the most applied-for course in Sweden. This surely represents the passion that Scandinavians and other Europeans have for writing in English. It also indicates the place of Malmö University at the very center of decentered English, if you will. 

In these last ten years, while the music industry has been shattered by the new technologies, books, both digital and paper, seem to abide largely unscathed. Now, along with Jack Kerouac, Milan Kundera, Joseph Brodsky, Eva Hoffman, Michel Faber, and Life of Pi author Yann Martel, not to mention Conrad and Nabokov, there are thousands of other second-language-English writers. And some of these are represented right here in this issue.

This issue also contains the fifth presentation of our own Conrad-Nabokov Award. http://www.shipwrightsreview.com/conrad-nabokov-award-2018/

I’d be remiss if I neglected to note the visual aspect of Shipwrights. For these ten years Kai McCall’s paintings have graced the magazine’s front page. It’s one of the only visuals we rely on, but it’s a forceful one. Not an issue passes without someone writing to let me know how much they love the featured painting on the “cover.” So, I want to extend deep thanks to Kai McCall for letting us use his work this way. The magazine wouldn’t be the same without it.

Lastly, I want to recognize the contributions of Melisa Vázquez. She has been my assistant editor from the magazine’s inception, and also attended the very first Creative Writing I course. She is my right-hand woman in selecting the texts that go into each issue, and she’s the one who does the first round of editing of most prose in the magazine. Beyond that, she's been right there all along helping to make some of the most important decisions about the magazine's direction and look. It would be hard for me to imagine publishing an issue without her. She, too, is living outside Sweden now (working as a researcher in Italy in Intercultural Law) and is thus another geographically “decentered” piece of the Shipwrights puzzle.

And thank you, dear readers! There would be no Shipwrights without you.

Darius Degher