In the early hours of the morning five years ago today, Rover’s first post appeared in cyberspace under Mélanie Grondin’s byline. Since then, more than 300 writers have contributed 1968 posts. Are you sitting down? That’s over a million words.
The site was designed by Julia Hennock, myself, and a self-taught IT wonderboy Cameron Knight, who at the time was living in my basement, bartering long hours hunched over his Mac in return for gruel and the odd bottle of good wine. Our logo, the little black dog, was lifted from a painting by Fiona Ackerman, called Vue de la Rue.
Much has happened since then. The site has undergone several transformations, and people have moved on. Mélanie publishes widely in publications that pay and is Editor of the Montreal Review of Books. Julia returned to Australia, where she runs her own design company. Cam went home to Kansas, finished his computer science certificate and is now one of the top dogs at Moblico, a dynamic app-building firm based in Kansas City. Fiona is a painter working on solo exhibitions scheduled this season at Vancouver’s Windsor Gallery and Herringer Kiss in Calgary. I’m still here, writing for Rover, living what my friend and our contributor Matthew Hays calls the eternal existential crisis of Rover.
Whither Rover? More on that later.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to pause and reflect on what I consider to be Rover’s most important contribution to the Montreal cultural scene. Making money, paying people, changing the world is still on the to-do list. But the community-building career-advancing success of the enterprise has surpassed my expectations. I had little idea five years ago that holding workshops, editing copy and promoting new writers by publishing their work and talking them up in the milieu would result in so many of them abandoning me for paying gigs.
Just kidding. When I open Mainonneuve Magazine and see Erica Ruth Kelly’s byline, or Lev Bratishenko’s in Maclean’s Magazine and The Gazette, or Heather Leighton’s in the Globe and Mail, I know that Rover – the collective wisdom and energy of the site – shares in the credit. Rover has been a doorway into the highly competitive and alas shrinking market for quality arts journalism. I won’t begin to list our alumnae or I will surely forget too many people. But you know who you are – and so do many other readers of fine publications.
I am also grateful to the many established writers and artists who contribute from time to time. Arthur Kaptainis, Matthew Hays, Noah Richler, Gina Roitman, Beverly Akerman, Elise Moser, Katia Grubisic, Mélanie Grondin, Elizabeth Johnston, Byron Toben, Linda Renaud, David Homel, Eric Hamovitch, Anna Fuerstenberg, Mark Abley, Brian Campbell and Lesley McCubbin are a few who come to mind. There are others, of course, many others.
I mention Leila Marshy lastly to signal her enveloping strength and presence. She is the amazingly loyal day-to-day editor who keeps this crazy dog on his feet. Mike Mirolla did the job for more than a year, before taking over Guernica Editions. Elise Moser was our brilliant books editor for at least two years, and put Rover on the national literary map. Shawn Katz, a bright rising star, has done his turn helming our Festival City coverage, as did the phenomenal talents Megan Stewart and Jamie O’Meara in earlier summers. Sarah Fletcher launched our newsletter and Chrissy Myers keeps it going.
In terms of readers, Rover established a core following in our first year. It has changed, but stayed consistent at around 10,000 page views per month. Not enough for a serious on-line advertising campaign, but enough to encourage the many writers who find us and publish here, Eman Husseini, Sruti Islam, Catherine Averback, Devon Gallant, Ashley Opheim, Zeshaun Saleem to name only a very few.
Rover readers are a chatty lot. They’ve sent in some 6,424 comments, which works out to more than three per post, considered excellent by any measure.
The Rover community is defined by our writers and commentators. The glue that holds us together – I would venture – are the periodic parties held usually at my house, and endless meetings around the table, where the existence of Rover is toasted and the future fretted upon.
Whither Rover? All things must change, of course. But slowly, in good time.
Meanwhile, please mark November 16 (DATE HAS BEEN CHANGED FROM INITIAL ANNOUNCEMENT) on your calendar, when Rover insiders and fans will gather at La Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, to raise a glass and blow out a few candles to the past and future of a really, really, really fun endeavour.
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore 211 Bernard St. West. Saturday, November 16th 7 – 9 pm. See our Facebook event.