Publishing Thrives Because of Its People
by Neil Besner
Two decades ago, on a steamy hot summer day at the Learneds in Toronto, I sat with Brian Henderson, then with Wilfrid Laurier University Press, over a mercifully cold beer. We’d known each other by then for a good while; Brian had proposed and championed an anthology of poetry that became Uncommon Wealth (1997), co-edited with two University of Winnipeg colleagues and friends.
Now Brian had another idea: a series of volumes, each devoted to a single Canadian poet, introduced by a discerning editor and with an Afterword by the poet herself.
That idea of Brian’s became the Laurier Poetry Series, or LPS, now with over thirty volumes in print. It was a tremendous privilege – an honor – to be invited to join the project as the series’ founding General Editor. Happily, I was joined by Brian as co-editor when he left the Press a few years ago.
All of that by way of introduction. More to the point: I can’t think of a better way to have been engaged with so many fine contemporary Canadian poets – from Crozier to Brossard, from Mercredi to Dewdney to Dionne Brand, from Kroetsch to Di Brandt to Burdick, Christakos to Cooley to Fetherling – or to have introduced them in the classroom and elsewhere. And the twenty years of working with Brian, with Rob Kohlmeier, with Siobhan, with Clare Hitchens, and with everyone at WLUP – you know who you are, all of you – was the most sustained, the richest and most nourishing relationship with a publisher I’ve been lucky enough to have been granted.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about WLUP and the LPS and more broadly, about the state of Canadian publishing because I have a memoir forthcoming in May from another Canadian house, ECW in Toronto.
And here’s the thing: amidst all the dark and dire and dour pronouncements about the state of the business in Canada – all of which, to be sure, signal a real concern for an embattled industry – it’s also true that publishing in Canada – against the odds – continues to thrive. Why?
It is because of the people who work in houses like these. And these people do the work they do because there it supports the vibrant community of readers and writers in this country.
Here’s a short description of the book that ECW is publishing:
A meditation on memory, time, love, and loss, Fishing with Tardelli contemplates the relations among four parents – mother, father, stepfather, and a Brazilian fishing companion – and the narrator, who locates them in three home grounds: Rio de Janeiro and Montreal, and memory’s story about time. Beginning with an older man’s recollections of himself as a young teenager fishing with Tardelli in the bay in Rio, the memoir recreates and meditates on time lost and time regained. Displacement in the world – in history and geography – becomes inseparable from the narrator’s memory and his internal geography; memory, dream, story, fable become permeable layers folded over bald facts baldly stated. The memoir begins in the mid-forties in Montreal, where two couples marry, divorce, and remarry in a new configuration; proceeds to Rio de Janeiro in the mid-fifties, where one of these newly-formed families emigrates; and returns to Montreal in the late sixties and early seventies. A fifty-year interlude culminates with the narrator’s return from Western Canada to the pandemic moment in Toronto.
Like the people who work at WLUP, the people at ECW, (and elsewhere – fill in the blanks) are, in my own experience, and to a person, loving stewards of the writers and readers among us. Thank you all! Immeasurably.
Neil Besner’s Fishing With Tardelli: A Memoir of Family in Time Lost, is published by ECW Press. It will be in bookstores by May 24. It can be pre-ordered here:
Register for the McNally Robinson Booksellers Book Launch here: https://stayhappening.com/e/neil-besner-book-launch-with-warren-cariou-dennis-cooley-andamp-catherine-hunter-E2ISUEAJGDK