“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):
*Factoid: I spent several years of my youth as a competitive synchronized swimmer…!
15 thoughts on “Printed Matters”
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.”
Awesome Hannah, thanks for the addition! I'm adding it (verbatim) into the body of the post now so that more folks see it.
Thanks for including BookThug!
The Literary Press Group's members represent a pretty broad swath of small to mid-sized independent Canadian publishers, including many that you've already mentioned. A full list is at http://lpg.ca/?q=publishers
I think Pedlar Press belongs on that list too.
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.
@Jenny: But of course! BookThug is a personal fave.
@Jack: great resource, thank you!
@jackdavis13 thank you–I will add Pedlar now!
@garybarwin: Beautifully said! Is there a single (online) location one can find a list of these small fairs?
My life changed during the five years I worked with Beverley Daurio at The Mercury Press.
Brick Books has been publishing new and established voices in Canadian poetry since 1975.
@commutiny: is that ever a testament to the power of press! Thanks, Mercury is added!
@BrickBooks: Wonderful beautiful books, thank you. Added to the list.
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.
@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!
This link has to do with large publishers, but may be of interest here:
At any rate, it drives home the importance of smaller presses!
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