canada · change · DIY

Printed Matters

“It was sadly fitting that entrepreneur Harold Fenn announced the failure of his once-thriving family business, Canada’s largest independently owned book distributor, on the same day Bay Street cheered news that the bankruptcy rate in Canada had hit an all-time low. Whatever other opportunities might arise in a suddenly buoyant new economy, it seems clear that the business of making and selling paper books in Canada will not be among them.”

So begins the Globe and Mail article detailing Harper’s latest blow to Canadian publishing. I find the systematic attack on the production of print culture in Canada vexing to say the least.

Part of my vexation is certainly connected to the fact that I work in a literature department. My work focuses on Canadian women’s cultural production, predominantly poetry that crosses and complicates genre boundaries. In short, I need publishers who are willing and able to publish the work of women I study.

And of course there’s love. I love books. I love them in print form, I love them in digital form. I love them in forms I didn’t even know could exist (thanks, Bruce Peel Special Collections!) As an only child I spent such a huge amount of time reading that my mom had to sign me up for sports* so that I would put down my books from time to time. OK, maybe she was also trying to encourage me to socialize… But the point is simple. My relationship with books is the longest of my life. I doubt we’ll break up any time soon.

My love of small and independent publishers developed later. Simply put I didn’t really know they existed until well into my undergraduate degree. I’ve found myself talking about the import of Canadian publishing in almost all of my courses in the past few years. This comes up naturally, from the surveys of Canadian literature to the introduction to literature courses: students want to know about their reading material. Where does it come from? How does publishing work? What does the publishing industry tell us about our so-called national values?

There are dedicated bloggers out there who have been calling attention to Canadian publishing for a good long while now. Lemon Hound, (begun as/by poet critic and public intellectual Sina Queyras in 2005 as a venture for discussing literature, art, politics, and women and now run by a collective of bright young things) recently posted about related and equally as worrying point: According to Amy King and the fine folks at Vida, women are publishing into a critical vacuum. Still.

So rather than blaming ebooks or speculate on when my country people are going to wake up and demand an election I’m making a list. A list of amazing small presses and less small presses in Canada. Please add ones I’ve missed. The idea here is first to gather a critical mass–there are bound to be presses we’ve yet heard about–and then, if possible, to make concerted efforts to support these presses in any way we can. Here goes (in no particular order):

Tente An amazing chapbook press begun by poet Angela Carr

No Press The latest brainchild of the indefatigable derek beaulieu

Gaspereau Press No apologies for beautiful books!

Arsenal Pulp Press Started as a student run collective in the 70s

Talonbooks Published, among many many others, what I would consider one of the most important books in the last five years: Sachiko Murakami‘s Invisibility Exhibit

BookThug Amazing, beautiful, innovative work gets packaged beautifully and published here.

NeWest Publishing ‘radically rewarding literature’ since the 1970s

Invisible Publishing An innovative small press here in Hali!

New Star In addition to literature and social issues New Star runs Transmontanus, a series of short illustrated books about some of the more unusual aspects of life in a corner of the world currently known as British Columbia.

Cormorant Dedicated to new and emerging writers

Snare Books Started in 2006 by Montreal based John Paul Fiorentino and Robert Allen. Stellar emergent poet Helen Hajnoczky’s first collection Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising was published by these fine folks.

Anvil Press Contemporary Canadian literature with an urban twist

Coach House Books The one & only

House of Anansi Publishing since 1967

Brick Books New and established voices in Canadian poetry since 1975

Pedlar Press Making no compromise with public taste!

Kegedonce We are a First Nations – owned and operated publisher committed to the development, promotion and publication of Indigenous Peoples. Our books are beautifully crafted and involve Indigenous Peoples at all levels of production. High quality design, materials and production are the cornerstone of our aesthetic approach to publishing.

Mercury Press Poetry, fiction, and culturally significant non-fiction

*Factoid: I spent several years of my youth as a competitive synchronized swimmer…!

15 thoughts on “Printed Matters

  1. This is a wonderful post, Erin, and a good reminder for us literature academics to think more about the material ways in which we can support our beloved Canadian small presses. May I suggest the addition of Kegedonce Press?

    “We are a First Nations – owned and operated publisher committed to the development, promotion and publication of Indigenous Peoples. Our books are beautifully crafted and involve Indigenous Peoples at all levels of production. High quality design, materials and production are the cornerstone of our aesthetic approach to publishing.”


  2. The various small press fairs across the country (The Toronto Small Press Fair, the Ottawa Small Press Fair, Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market (Toronto), etc.) feature mid- to minute-size presses of all description. And, as I think, Stuart Ross, small press activist, said once in the Globe, since many of these presses exist without subsidy and certainly without profit (or profit-motive) they can't be touched by cut-backs, or the economy. They seethe beneath the surface. The vital verbal rhizome of Can Lit. It's a network based on energy, vitality, love's labour, investigation, curiousity, and enthusiasm.


  3. Sigh. I'm going to be a dissenting voice. In Canada, we celebrate small presses yeah, but we spend so little time thinking about the economics of literary production in Canada that we don't study how they–along with medium sized and large presses–actually work. John B. Thompson's 2010 Merchants of Culture does some hard thinking about this for the UK and the US. We should do the same.


  4. @Dr. Identity: Not so much voice of dissent as voice of next step? My aim in this post is merely preliminary, your reminder is that there is much, much more to do than simply create a hurrah! list. Thanks for that!


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