A Goodbye Playlist from Publicity Director extraordinaire, Laura Repas

Today is my last day working at House of Anansi. I got the job here in Fall 2002, and barring two years of leave, I’ve been here since. I don’t know how to say goodbye to my friends here, to the memories, to the place that introduced me to my husband, some of my closest friends, and to many, many of my favourite books. So I’ve made a playlist to help me out!

1 – Hey Ya! – OutKast

In 2003, the year this song came out, our then-publisher Martha Sharpe started wearing a super-cute, bright Kelly green sweater. I immediately went out and bought a similar one, and she was cool enough to not mind me biting her look. We called our new favourite colour ‘André Green,’ after the cardigan André Benjamin wears in the video for “Hey Ya!”. Subsequent Anansi staffers started calling their Kelly green stuff ‘André Green’ too, because Andre is awesome, and none of could remember who the Kelly person was. Also, this is the best pop song ever recorded.

2 – French Navy – Camera Obscura

I met my husband, Ken Babstock, right here in the Anansi offices the first month I started work. Various work events kept bringing us together over the following months, as if Anansi was trying to make us fall in love. This song reminds me of him every time I hear it.

3 – Communist Daughter – Neutral Milk Hotel

My close friend Colleen Wormald was our very first intern in the newly-independent Anansi of 2002. That’s how we met. We sat across from each other for four months and discovered we shared a brain. Sure we were separated by an age gap, ethnicity, and some minor socioeconomic stuff, but other than that, it was like we were the SAME PERSON. Not only has Anansi employed me all these years, it also conveniently laid a few soulmates in my path. She introduced me to this beautiful Neutral Milk Hotel CD, and we liked to go to the tiny Dundas Street bar of the same name as this song, when we could fit inside.

4 – Everyday I’m Hustlin’ – Rick Ross

This song reminds me of Sarah MacLachlan, our president and publisher. SURE Ross has some unsavoury controversy around him, and sure we’re not in Miami, and certainly not dealing anything illicit (honest), but every day Sarah Mac is hustlin’. She has an inspirational amount of energy, a talent for seeing all the angles, swears like a thug, and has ALL THE HUSTLE.  Change one word and lyrics can even work:

I’m into distribution, I’m like Anansi
I got them motherf***ers flying across the Atlantic

5 – Have You Ever Had It Blue – The Style Council

Years ago I nicknamed my female colleagues at Anansi the Lifestyle Panel. I found that if I wanted to make a decision about where to eat, what to buy, what shoe looked best with what pants, and other such questions, I could put it out to the group here and get the best feedback. Once I bought two pairs of boots on sale and stomped around the whole office with a different boot on each foot and had everyone here vote on which one they liked better so I could decide which one to return. You don’t find that level of patience and taste just anywhere. I’ll miss my friends. There’s no song I know to describe our relationships, but the name Style Council sure fits.

6 – Dick in a Box – The Lonely Island featuring Justin Timberlake

Do you have a beloved Christmas song that puts you in the mood for the holidays? Is it “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – so sad yet hopeful, poignantly sung by Judy Garland? Is it “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth,” the duet by Crosby and Bowie, their surprising, cross-generational pairing feeling so moving, so right for the season? At House of Anansi we always get into the spirit of the season with a delicious potluck lunch, a staff gift exchange, and “Dick in a Box” on a loop in the boardroom.

7 – We All Lose One Another – Jason Collett

Once, at an IFOA event for our Broken Social Scene book, I tipsily promised the lovely Jason Collett that Anansi would publish anything he may want to write, ever. Novels, lyrics, recipes, pensées, anything. I really feel I should set the record straight… Offer still stands, Jason! Just call Sarah Mac.

8 – 1 2 3 4 – Feist

While we’re on a BSS tip, Sarah Mac introduced me to Leslie Feist when she was one of the judges of our BSS short story contest. Our conversation went like this:

Feist – Have we met before? You look really familiar.

Repas – I don’t think so, but maybe. I’ve been around.

Feist (knowingly, with a hint of ennui) – Yeah, I’ve been around too.

I swooned.

9 – Jenny and the Ess-Dog – Stephen Malkmus

When I first saw Patrick deWitt’s author photo I thought he looked like my long-time crush Steve Malkmus, from Pavement. Then I MET Steve Malkmus in a park in Berlin, and realized he looked nothing like Patrick deWitt. But he was still an indie-rock dreamboat, and genuinely friendly and cool, totally worthy of a two-decades-and-counting crush. And DeWitt’s not so bad either.

10 – Annabel – Goldfrapp

This song is based on Kathleen Winter’s gorgeous novel, Annabel. It was such a pleasure to work on that book, and to get to know Kathleen.

Also, there is an album called February by Joanna Barker, which was partly inspired by Lisa Moore’s novel of the same name. Joanna’s not on Grooveshark, so I couldn’t put her on the playlist, but I recommend her CD. And Lisa Moore is a great friend, and my absolute favourite person to take a drive with, hands down.

11 – To Sir With Love – Lulu

The time has come for closing books
And long last looks must end
And as I leave I know
That I am leaving my best friend

The lyrics say it all, I don’t know a more fitting farewell song.

So that’s my playlist for the end of my Anansi era. If you need me, I’ll be the one crying on the Queen streetcar.


The Anansi crew all put our cellphones together to gather up some of our favourite picture of Laura throughout the years. We’ll miss you, Laura! It’s the end of an era.


It’s fair to say that House of Anansi has always published great women writers, so when Joanna Walsh of the Guardian began her #readwomen2014 initiative we decided to do a Vida Count of our own. We were pleased and fascinated by what we discovered.

In 1967, our founding year, Anansi published Janis Rapoport’s debut poetry collection, Within the Whirling Moment, in the Young Poets series (YPS) and the young Margaret Atwood’s second collection, Circle Game, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, was published under the House of Anansi imprint (HAP 3).

This was an auspicious beginning to be sure, however, over the next twenty-two years Anansi published only twenty female authors. That’s not a high number, but in the ensuing twenty-five years, since 1987, the house has published more than seventy women writers — a 300% increase! We’re happy to report that women writers have very strong representation at Anansi, across all genres. Our women authors write about everything: health and wellness, science, history, astrology, memoir, poetry, and fiction.

We have decided to take up #readwomen2014 as our campaign slogan for the upcoming fall season largely because we have a plethora of fabulous women writers on our list and want the world to know about them. More importantly, we want everyone to read their books! So please take a look at what we have to offer you in the coming months. Enter our contest to win wonderful prizes. And please, please read and share these extraordinary writers! #readwomen2014

House of Anansi President and Publisher, Sarah MacLachlan


Enter to win!

Join us on Twitter this Friday at 4pm for #Publidash


The golden era of long boozy Mad Men-style publishing lunches may be over, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still know how to get down. Publishing professionals still throw good parties…they’re just on twitter now!

This Friday at 4 p.m. EST we’re getting together with Coach House Books, ECW Press, Invisible Publishing, and The Porcupines Quill for a little Balderdash-style competition amongst friends.

It works like this

  • Each publisher will bring along one author for the game.
  • Each author will lead one round of Publidash. He or she will pick an obscure word and announce it with the hashtag #publidash.
  • We indie presses will DM the author with our short twitter-friendly definitions.
  • The author will tweet each false definition and the real one anonymously. And that’s where you come in.
  • You have 10 minutes to vote for your favourite #publidash definitions. Favourite the one you think is right, and retweet the one you think is funniest, or most clever. The definition with the most favourites will earn 2 points, and the definition with the most retweets will earn 1. We’re playing for bragging rights, and this is how we’ll try to earn them.

You could walk away with a really great haul

Every vote you cast gets you one ballot in a draw for a pack of books by the participating authors

978-0-88784-236-8_l  bookreview1_46862  41EDSG+5B1L  RU-REVPROOF  9780889843561RH

This is how you play

  1. Follow the hashtag #publidash at 4pm on Friday, February 28
  2. Favourite  the definition you think is correct. The publisher whose definition earns the most favourites will get two points.
  3. Retweet the definition you think is the funniest. The publisher whose definition earns the most retweets will get 1 fan favourite point.
  4. Each round you vote on earns you one entry in our draw. There will be five rounds, so you can earn up to 5 ballots.
  5. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner of our draw at the end of the game!

Here’s what the publishers are playing for

Bragging rights. Bragging rights and this badass Publidash trophy illustrated by man-for-all-seasons Evan Monday.


This whole thing started with a clandestine late-night twitter meeting. We’ve captured our tweets on Storify to show you how: The genesis of #Publidash

Hold Fast: the story of a Canadian classic

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood update; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood version; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

Thirty-five years ago, I got my first real job, as an editorial assistant at a now-defunct publishing company called Clarke Irwin. The salary was $6,000 a year, and I worked in a little cubbyhole where I spent a lot of time wrestling with carbon paper and Wite-Out, typing address labels on an old manual typewriter, and rejecting manuscripts.

My biggest job perk was that I got to read the slush pile. Clarke Irwin was mainly an educational publisher, but it had started to get into trade books, including children’s books.

One of the manuscripts that came across my desk was a young adult novel written by a schoolteacher in Newfoundland. The novel was called Hold Fast. I was knocked out by it. I sent it on to the Powers That Be, and the decision was made to publish it.

That’s when I was assigned the best task in publishing. I got to tell the author that we wanted to publish his book.

I phoned Kevin Major. He was very nice. Very polite. We talked for a short while and both said goodbye. But in that second as I was putting down the receiver, I heard him on the other end of the line, shouting with joy just before he hung up the phone. I think he screamed “Wahoo!”

An illustration from Hold Fast

An illustration from the first edition of Hold Fast

That was the start. For Kevin it was the beginning of a stellar writing career, with fifteen books, a heap of awards and publication around the world.

For me? Hold Fast was my introduction to YA books, and it spoiled me for anything else. That book taught me everything I needed to know about voice and authenticity, about character-driven stories, about sense of place, about making readers feel something. After that, I knew I wanted to edit books for young readers, and I’ve spent the rest of my own career doing so, with Hold Fast setting the bar.

Kevin? Are you out there? Do you remember that Wahoo moment? It’s been thirty-five years. Can you believe it?

Shelley Tanaka is an award-winning author, editor and translator. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.

Now Hold Fast is a major motion picture produced by Rock Island Productions. The movie premiers in Canada on Friday, December 6th in St. John’s and Halifax. The national release will be in 2014. If you’re a lucky east-coaster, we hope you’ll check it out. The rest of us will have to make due with the trailer for now.

In memoriam, Gaétan Soucy, October 21, 1958 – July 9, 2013

In memoriam, Gaétan Soucy, October 21, 1958 – July 9, 2013“The fundamental disaster that fashions the reality of the world is the inevitable death of those we love.”
—Gaétan Soucy, the very first words of his great novel, Atonement.

You were right all those years ago, Gaétan my friend, it’s just that we didn’t want it to be true. We wanted you to live forever, or at least to a hearty old age, nourishing us with your prose as it became more and more limpid, compact, perfect.

What a legacy! Four terrible, wonderful, novels, each one utterly unique. A strange piece of theatre, Catoblépas was in a sense a lengthy footnote to La Petite Fille qui aimait trop les allumettes. It was tough, it made great demands on a reader or an audience. And while it was brought to the stage by the great director Denis Marleau, it did not enjoy the success of the novels. In the end, I think that we were quite simply not ready for it, neither emotionally nor aesthetically. The novels though entered more easily into our hearts and minds. Terrible they were, evoking sometimes the horrific, the appalling, the repulsive, the vile. Certain readers, certain critics even, actually claimed to be shocked that such works could even be published. They were, of course, a minority but worthy of mention.

My own association with Gaétan Soucy began when his French publisher, Pascal Asathiany, pointed a copy of l’Acquittement in my direction, saying, “Here’s one for you!” He was right.

I read the novel on a plane and I was dazzled. There was nothing I could do then but go back to the beginning and read it a second time. It has some of Soucy’s pet themes, themes that will appear elsewhere in his work. The setting is somewhere in Quebec, there is a paralyzing snowstorm, we witness a kind of reunion with a woman from the past and at the end, a stunning revelation. It was followed by a novel I was sure was untranslatable, for at its core there is another stunning revelation, one that depended on the gender of a couple of words. The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches was a tremendous success, critically and commercially, and in many languages. Along the way, I had discovered that it actually was translatable.

There followed Vaudeville (Music-Hall in French), the story of a singing frog and a crew of “demolishers” putting up new buildings in the New York City of the 20th century. In the end it is horrific, appalling, yes, even repulsive at times, but it is brilliant, a stunning achievement. Beckett would have admired it.

Gaétan Soucy has not left a school, a coterie of young writers. His philosophy students may well read his novels though and who knows what influence they might have on their own work. He has left a beloved daughter, his parents and siblings, some utterly loyal friends and thousands and thousands of readers who are as sad as I am that there will be no more books.

Sheila Fischman is an award-winning translator who translated three of Gaétan Soucy’s great novels and a tale, The Anguish of the Heron published by and available from Aliquando Press.

Québécois novelist Gaétan Soucy died on Tuesday of a heart attack at age 54. Everyone at Anansi is saddened by the loss.

Northwest Passage and that new-book smell

Hot off the press: Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers, illustrated with pictures and commentary by Matt James, available September 2013.

Hot off the press: Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers, with pictures and commentary by Matt James, available September 2013.

When publishing people get together, we always talk about the same thing. Sure, we might start off with an analysis of world events or a friendly argument about what we’re going to order for dinner. But sooner or later, we always get around to that one really important question: what’s your favourite stage in the process of making a book?

Editors might tell people that the very best part comes early. It could be the “made your day” moment of telling an author that her book is going to be published, or the first glimpse of rough sketches that makes a picture book seem finally real. But, honestly, everyone who works in publishing agrees that nothing, simply nothing, can compare to the first time you hold a finished book in your hands. To help you experience that feeling for yourselves, here is a sneak peek of a fall 2013 title that had people in our office jumping up and down (for real!) last Friday. I’m only sorry that I can’t figure out how to share that new-book smell with you via cyberspace.

— Sheila Barry, Publisher of Groundwood Books

(Psst: for more behind-the-scenes photos, check out Groundwood on Instagram. Anansi is on Instagram too.)

Hot off the press: Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers, with pictures and commentary by Matt James, available September 2013.

Some spreads from Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers, with pictures and commentary by Matt James, available September 2013.

On YA literature with LGBTQ characters

Suzanne Sutherland, editorial assistant at Groundwood Books

Suzanne Sutherland, editorial assistant at Groundwood Books, and author of When We Were Good, published by Three O’Clock Press. You can follow her on Twitter @sutherlandsuz, and read her blog.

In September of 2011, my mom was nervous.

“I was listening to Q,” she said, “you know, with Jian Ghomeshi?”
“Uh huh?”
“And he said that no one buys YA with gay characters.”
“Oh, really.”
“He’s says it’s very hard to get published.”

I then proceeded to totally interrupt her story (about co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith being asked by a major literary agent to ‘straighten out’ a gay character in their post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger) to spout off a list of exceptional young-adult literature with LGBTQ characters. A list that started with Groundwood’s own Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

My mom was concerned because I had just sent my first novel off to a publisher for consideration. The book was (and is) called When We Were Good and was (and is) about two girls falling in love, among other things.

The coming-out speech I gave my parents was unlike most.

“I’m not gay,” I told them, “but my book is.”

Though they were, and always have been, unconditionally supportive of my work and of me, my mom was worried that I would be asked to change my story—that maybe they’d tell me to turn my leading lady, Katherine, into a Kurt or a Kenny.

But so many of the novels I read as a teenager, during that formative time when books hit harder than they ever will again (if you’re lucky), reflected the lives of the people around me who identified as LGBTQ. Ariel Schrag’s autobiographical high school comics (particularly Potential) shocked and amazed me with their gutting honesty, and local Toronto authors like Mariko Tamaki (with her first novel, Cover Me) and Debra Anderson (Code White) inspired me to write more stories about our city.

So, as it happened, my mom worried for nothing.

When We Were Good book coverWhen We Were Good found a perfect publisher in Sumach, and as I worked with my editor, Sarah Wayne, to bring the manuscript to its finished state, I noticed that there seemed to be more and more new works of LGBTQ-themed YA.

In addition to Groundwood’s own excellent contributions to the field—shout-outs to Paul Yee’s Money Boy, Tamara Bach’s Girl From Mars and Diana Wieler’s Bad Boy, which was particularly trailblazing when it was published in 1990—there is a wealth of fantastic queer YA being published right now.

Happily, Brown and Smith’s co-authored novel, Stranger, eventually found a home with Penguin’s imprint Viking in 2012, and is due out in 2014, reportedly with its gay characters intact.

And my own novel, When We Were Good, was released in May, appropriately feted with a launch at the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookshop, Glad Day.