Grain’s Beginnings

by Ken Mitchell

Grain magazine published its first issue in June 1973, a Gestetner edition with stapled, taped bindings, and with cover art on a card-stock cover by a then new artist Joe Fafard. The first edition, edited by Ken Mitchell, Anne Szumigalski, and Caroline Heath included writings by Robert Kroetsch, George Bowering, Robert Currie, and John V. Hicks, and cost $1.00. A subscription cost $2 a year, or $5 for three years. This was the first of a series of semi-annual issues.

In 1976, Grain began publishing three issues a year, and then in 1981, moved to its present quarterly - four issues a year - state.

Throughout all these years, Grain has published the best new writing from Canada and abroad, approximately 2000 pieces of writing and over 220 art images, many of them from Saskatchewan. Grain editors over the years have been: Ken Mitchell, Caroline Heath, E.F. Dyck, Brenda Riches, Mick Burrs, Geoffrey Ursell, J. Jill Robinson, Elizabeth Philips, Kent Bruyneel, Sylvia Legris and Rilla Friesen.

Grain has grown up with a generation of literary magazines, and is proud to be alive and flourishing after more than 40 years of life. This success is due to the readers, and contributors, but also to primary funding sponsors: Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild (publisher-in-chief), Sask Lotteries, Saskatchewan Arts Board, The Canada Council for the Arts and The Canada Magazine Fund.


Seeding Grain in 1973…

by Ken Mitchell

 … was a highly significant moment in the history of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild -- a moment of expectation and triumph in the Guild’s development as a literary community.  The SWG was about three years old at that point and was coming to full development under the leadership of Geoffrey Ursell  -- yes, another Moose Javian -- who had just returned to Saskatchewan from the University of Manitoba. 

The Guild was enthusiastic about establishing a prairie-based writers’ magazine, but it wasn’t my idea alone. I was teaching at the Summer School of the Arts at Fort Qu’Appelle in 1972, and inspired by a proposal of our writer-in-residence, Robert Kroetsch, at that time a guest from Binghamton, New York. He thought it was time for an original and non-academic literary quarterly to hit the newsstands, not only in Saskatchewan, but all of Canada. He said he would submit some of his “Old Man Stories” if I got such a magazine into production. I went to the SWG executive, and though they were a bit alarmed at the cost of printing, offered to apply to the Saskatchewan Arts Board. I.e., I needed startup help. 

That first issue of Grain -- June, 1973 -- spoke for itself. I won’t list the entire threshing crew of the first Grain harvest, but they included Kroetsch, John Hicks, Nancy Senior, Martha E. Crawford, Mark Abley, George Bowering, Douglas Barbour, and Stephen Scobie. My Associate Editors were Anne Szumigalski and Caroline Heath. The advisory board consisted of Margaret Atwood, Hugh Hood, and Rudy Wiebe. The first cover blazed with a ceramic portrait of “King” by Joe Fafard, then just beginning his own artistic career. 

But my first words of gratitude went to our first business manager, Bob Ivanochko; he worked at the Saskatchewan Provincial Library, and not only looked after Grain’s financial management  – a volunteer role, like everybody else’s --, he shipped bushels of our new Graincrop to the major libraries of Canada and the U.S. Imagine! A free copy for every library, every one accompanied by a sign-up subscription form. In that first year, I believe we had a subscription list reaching nearly a thousand libraries. Most members of the Guild -- a much smaller number than now. maybe 300 – signed up as well.

It was an exhilarating time, full of hope and praise for the new Saskatchewan harvest. Following Western Producer, Prairie Books, Bob Currie’s Salt magazine, and The Wascana Review, the guild generated a rise in the literary grain market and exported it around the world. The Guild was proud of the accomplishment, and many remain so to this day.