The impact of women trailblazers in Canadian publishing



Many of the classic books of Canadian literature thrived because of women editors, publishers and agents. Some are profiled here: Anna Porter in the 1970s, Bella Pomer in 2015 and Claire Pratt in 1950.
Diane Pullan; Facebook; special collections

Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University

As you indulge in summer reading, consider this fact. If not for the path-breaking women in Canadian publishing, some of Canada’s best-known writers might not have made it: Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Carol Shields.

Although it’s known that women have always participated in Canadian publishing, the lasting influence they’ve had on the industry remains largely unacknowledged. It’s time we honoured Irene Clarke, Claire Pratt, Anna Porter and Bella Pomer — Canada’s own Diana Athills, the famous British editor — whose contributions count alongside those of men like Jack McClelland, a name that still dominates the history of Canadian publishing.

Some women worked in mainstream presses and others started independent houses like Toronto’s Sister Vision co-founded in 1985 by Makeda Silvera and Stephanie Martin – pictured here in 1997.
Alvaro Goveia/Library and Archives Canada

My research focuses on Canadian authors and their publishers, editors and literary agents. It has led to many happy hours immersed in archival collections in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, where I’ve uncovered the record of women’s labour in mainstream Canadian publishing. In making a place for themselves in the mainstream press, these women helped lead the way for the feminists who established their own imprints, such as Press Gang Publishers (1970-2002) and Sister Vision Press (1985-2000).

Who were these trailblazing figures?

Irene Clarke, publisher

Irene Clarke (1903-1986) was Canada’s first woman publisher of English-language books. In 1930, she co-founded Clarke, Irwin.

At the time, with the world economy in collapse and the country in the grip of the Depression, the decision to launch a publishing company might have seemed foolish. By the late 1940s, however, under Clarke’s leadership, Clarke, Irwin had become one of the country’s five largest educational and trade publishers.

In 1941, Clarke took another bold step and published Emily Carr’s first book, Klee Wyck, under the Oxford University Press Canada imprint. At the time, in an unusual arrangement, Clarke, Irwin shared staff and premises with Oxford.

‘Klee Wyck,’ 1941.
Oxford University Press, Toronto.

Carr’s book of sketches, which had been rejected by other publishers, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction and helped generate new recognition for her paintings.

A close bond formed between Irene Clarke and Emily Carr, two women who broke historic ground, one as a publisher, and the other as a writer and a painter. Clarke not only launched Carr’s literary career. She went on to publish and acquire the copyright to all of Carr’s writing, which now endures alongside her more celebrated paintings.


Claire Pratt, editor

Claire Pratt, 1950.
Box 46, file 8, MCP fonds, Special Collections, E.J. Pratt Library, Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

From 1956 to 1965, Claire Pratt (1921-1995) was senior editor at McClelland & Stewart, where she worked closely with individual writers.

Pratt came to know Margaret Laurence through her fiction set in Africa and recommended the novel This Side Jordan (1960) and The Tomorrow-Tamer and Other Stories (1963) for publication.

When she read the draft of The Stone Angel (1964), the first novel in Laurence’s Manawaka series, the editor was deeply moved. Pratt’s appreciation won the author’s trust and she remained a touchstone figure in Laurence’s life.

Pratt was most vivacious with the spirited poet Irving Layton. Pratt worked with Layton on four volumes issued by McClelland & Stewart, the first of which was the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959).

Layton sought Pratt’s opinion of his poetry. He tested her patience by continually revising a manuscript until the moment it was forwarded to the printers. He bartered constantly: if he were to remove one poem from a collection, might he replace it with another? He also enriched Pratt’s professional life and offered some of the most heartfelt expressions of thanks she received over the course of her career, even an ode glorifying “Saint Claire.”


Anna Porter, publisher

Anna Porter in the 1970s.
Diane Pullan/Reprinted from Anna Porter and Marjorie Harris, eds., Farewell to the 70s: A Canadian Salute to a Confusing Decade, A Discovery Book (Don Mills, ON: Thomas Nelson, 1979), backflap.

Following a similar path taken decades earlier by Irene Clarke, Anna Porter (born in 1943) became the first woman to head a Canadian publishing company devoted to English-language non-fiction trade books. In 1979, she co-founded Key Porter Books, and then in 1982 assumed the lead as publisher of the firm.

Today, non-fiction is a popular and steadily growing genre that appeals to a wide audience. When Porter established her company, however, she broke new ground by rejecting fiction in favour of the expanding category of non-fiction.

Porter pursued journalist Allan Fotheringham, whose Malice in Blunderland or, How the Grits Stole Christmas (1982) was Key Porter’s first best-selling title and the first of Fotheringham’s six books to be issued by the press.

The crusty Farley Mowat was one of Key Porter’s more outspoken and popular authors. Mowat and Porter shared a long and fruitful connection characterized by impassioned and vigorous debate and reconciliation.


Bella Pomer, literary agent

Bella Pomer at a party celebrating her achievements, June 2015.
Peter Rehak/Facebook

Bella Pomer (born in 1926) established her own literary agency in 1978. One of Canada’s first agents, she was undaunted by the prospect of entering a burgeoning field that soon was dominated by a cluster of women based in Toronto.

Pomer’s most prominent client was Carol Shields. Their agency agreement lasted 20 years, from 1982 to 2002. Pomer’s vision and tenacity helped shape Shields’s career.

When Pomer placed The Stone Diaries with Random House of Canada in 1993 — after 11 lean years of representing Shields — the response was immediate. Critics and readers alike were intrigued by the novel’s structure and captivated by its elusive protagonist, Daisy Goodwill. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize and went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Soon, Pomer was handling the countless administrative details that increased exponentially in the wake of The Stone Diaries. She orchestrated U.S., British and foreign publication of all of Shields’s books, ensuring that each edition received individual attention. She negotiated with publishers and sub-agents to secure handsome royalty advances for Shields’s subsequent books.

As a top agent, Pomer was more than a professional who shared in Shields’s triumph. She was also an attentive listener, an ally and a strong defender of Shields.

Pomer’s business approach to her many book deals was a boon to writers. With understanding and skill, she brokered better terms and royalty advances for her clients and sold their work outside of Canada. Such intervention succeeded in altering Canadian publishers’ negative perception of agents. More importantly, it helped reform dated practices that favoured publishers over authors.


Clarke, Pratt, Porter and Pomer were among the women who changed the face of Canadian publishing. Their achievements, which resonate in today’s highly charged publishing environment, deserve our attention.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Ruth Panofsky, Professor, Department of English, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Copyright in Canada


The link below is to an article reporting on the current status of copyright issues in Canada.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2019/05/copyright-advocates-applaud-parliamentary-review-of-canadian-modernization-act/

2018 Cundill History Prize


The links below are to articles reporting on Canada’s Cundill History Prize for 2018, including the shortlist and winner. The chronology runs from top to bottom.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/06/canada-cundill-history-prize-2018-jurors-search-for-new-insights/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/09/canada-cundill-history-prize-announces-2018-shortlist/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/cundill-history-prize-2018-finalists-author-biographies-climate/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/cundill-history-prize-2018-winner-maya-jasanoff-praise/

The Dawn Watch – Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff

2018 Giller Prize (Canada)


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 Giller Prize, with the winner announces as Esi Edugyan for Washington Black.

For more visit:
https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/2018-giller-prize-winner-1.4909410
https://www.cbc.ca/books/how-esi-edugyan-wrote-her-novel-washington-black-and-won-her-second-scotiabank-giller-prize-1.4809481

An idiosyncratic survey of great Canadian reads



File 20171214 27562 mit28f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What better season than winter to curl up with some interesting books? University of Toronto English professor Randy Boyagoda recommends five from his personal Canadian literature library.
(João Silas/Unsplash)

Randy Boyagoda, University of Toronto

Editor’s note: What better season than winter to curl up with some interesting books? We went to ScotiaBank Giller Prize nominated novelist and University of Toronto English professor Randy Boyagoda and asked him to recommend to us five of his personal book choices from the shelves of Canadian literature.

Randy Boyagoda published his first novel, Governor of the Northern Province, in 2006, followed by Beggar’s Feast in 2011. His new novel, Original Prin, is forthcoming in 2018.

Randy surveyed his shelves and here are his five idiosyncratic choices:

Black Robe

Written by Brian Moore (1985)

Black Robe is historical fiction set in the 17th century Canada — meaning New France. It’s a novel involving an encounter that French Jesuit missionaries have with members of the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois.

What I found so remarkable about the book is its potential contribution to our contemporary conversation about truth and reconciliation especially given that it was written in a very different cultural moment. I think the book is honest and bracing and has a certain spaciousness of vision that attempts to provide full and meaningful lives for every character.

Arrival: The Story of CanLit

Written by Nick Mount (2017)

Arrival (Anansi) by Nick Mount, has rightly been generating a great deal of both public and critical attention this fall.

Nick’s book is an ambitious and readable effort to tell the story of how we went from being a nation without a literature to a literature without a nation. The book explores a specific interest in what we might think of as the “boom time” of Canadian literature, from the late ‘60s through the early ‘70s.

What I found especially interesting about Nick’s book is his willingness to offer a series of evaluations, ratings even, of various Canadian novels. We live in a culture that sometimes shies away from making aesthetic and critical judgements. I think what’s great in Arrival is that Nick invites us to read these books and disagree with him.

The Great Canadian Novel

I’m trying to decide whether I disagree with Nick when he says in his book, Arrival, that The Double Hook by Sheila Watson (1959), which is a slim and complex mid-century Canadian novel, is the Great Canadian Novel.

That’s a big claim. If I were going to make the same claim, I’d assign that honour to Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler (1989).

I’ve decided to read Double Hook in the coming weeks and decide if I agree with Nick or not.

The Way of the Strangers

Written by Graeme Wood (2017)

The Way of the Strangers is a work of striking literary journalism. It recently won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Wood is best known for his cover story in The Atlantic two years ago, on ISIS. His book is a series of first-person essays, travelogues and analyses of radical Islam.

Wood goes to various Middle Eastern states, places in the U.S., and elsewhere. There’s wide, personal contact with people in various forms of radicalization and he’s also subjected to various attempts at conversion—reading about that is also fascinating.

Wood’s care, seriousness and persuasive criticisms of radical Islam shows that understanding his subject only in political terms or as a misrepresentation of Islam does not do justice to the complex and riven reality of contemporary Islam. As an outsider who’s interested in these matters, I found the book really engaging.

A news-minded audience would find a book like this of real interest. It really does give you a sense of the inner lives of people who have committed to a radical interpretation of Islam and are trying to live that out in the world around them.

The quality of writing and reporting is excellent and the book is especially timely now for obvious reasons. I think that it will be an important historical document in global affairs thirty years from now.

Fifteen Canadian Poets x 2

Edited by Gary Geddes (1978)

My last pick involves a family tradition.

Most Sunday nights, the Boyagoda family gathers in our own library and we each read a poem. I choose my Sunday poem out of Fifteen Canadian Poets x 2 edited by Gary Geddes. It came out in 1978. The book was a very important and timely anthologizing of new Canadian poetry and also at that point, established poets. There are people in there ranging from E.J. Pratt to then emerging voices, such as Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood.

The ConversationWhen I pick a writer out of that anthology, the writers I go for most often are poets like P.K. Page, Raymond Souster and Alden Nowlan. Here are people who write beautiful, arresting, strange and funny poetry. Reading from it is a double break: it’s a nice break, frankly, from the usual suspects, and it also introduces my American-born wife, who has a PhD in twentieth century American and Caribbean poetry, I add, and our American children, to all the wonders of Canadian literature, poetically.

Randy Boyagoda, Professor of English, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: The Biblio-Mat


The link below is to an article that looks at a Canadian Used Bookseller’s (The Monkey’s Paw) vending machine that will spit out a random used book for $2.00. The vending machine is called the Biblio-Mat.

For more visit:
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2012/11/15/today-in-spectacular-bookseller-practices-a-random-used-book-vending-machine

Article: Libraries Begin Fining People for not Picking up Holds


The article linked to below concerns libraries in Canada fining users who fail to pick up their ‘hold.’ What do you think about these sorts of fines? They are meant to keep books available for those who actually will use the books kept on hold.

For more visit:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/06/06/toronto-city-libraries-new-fines-for-holds.html