Anansi’s Publisher Charts a New Course

No matter how new or well used, how large or small, every boat needs the same elements to operate: a solid crew, a steady hand at the helm, and wind in the sails. When House of Anansi was founded in 1967, it was run by a young, inexperienced, but enthusiastic crew who managed to catch the wind in a way no one else had done to date.

The early Anansi aesthetic looked for cultural identity through literature, with aspirations to publish people engaged in expressing new Canadian realities. Over the decades (we’re now in our 55th year!), Anansi has grown into an iconic Canadian publishing house, the most prominent independent in the country, and we’ve helped to propel many authors into the mainstream.

I assumed the helm of the good ship Anansi in April 2022; the move has been like jumping from the tiller of a dinghy to the bridge of a yacht. Now that I’m here, my goal is to catch today’s version of the same winds that filled Anansi’s early sails. The publishing landscape has changed significantly, and Anansi has a larger, and I dare say more professional, crew, but the course we’re charting is inspired by the same values.

We want to be powered by that sense of relentless optimism that buoyed early Anansi lists. With it, we’ll publish considered, ambitious, literary books that explode the status quo both at home in Canada and around the world.

To do this, we’re plotting our points of sail, the directions our list might take: we’ll publish groundbreaking, literary, authentic, freewheeling work. We’ll deliver a considered equilibrium by publishing fiction that sits in the sweet spot between the commercial and literary; poetry that experiments within the lyric; nonfiction that’s proactive rather than reactive, thinks outside the usual polarities, and offers unexpected takes on contemporary phenomena. There will still be plenty of translations, more experimentation with genre, and a continued emphasis on placing the best international literature in conversation with original Canadian work.

This may not sound all that different from the Anansi you know and love, but even subtle shifts can make big waves. What we’re doing is refining—with ambition and heart in equal measure—the content we publish and the processes by which we produce it. We’ll build literary community and invest in relationships and work with writers to publish work that is consistently exciting and that strikes a chord. We’ll give authors at all career levels a home—as a strong, viable, alternative to the big five (or four) multinational houses.

In publishing, like in sailing, you must be nimble; you must read the wind and be prepared to adjust course at any moment. And therein lies Anansi’s greatest strength: we’re big enough to have a list with room for adjustments and a capable, many-handed crew to make them, but small enough to be agile and adaptable in order to make them quickly. And we want writing, and writers, who are just as agile and perceptive of where the winds of culture are blowing.

Our first tack comes via our spring 2023 list, which is emblematic of the diverse writers and perspectives our editorial team champions. This includes work by Rachael Moorthy (River Meets the Sea) and Koˉtuku Titihuia Nuttall (Tauhou), and Michel Jean (Kukum) and Anuja Varghese (Chrysalis), alongside established heavy hitters like Patrick DeWitt.

Independent publishing is vital to producing both a national literature and setting it in conversation with the wider world. The nationalism of Anansi’s founding days was centered on establishing a Canadian literature that saw would-be writers emerge from basements and attics. Today, we’re making an intentional effort to give new communities a voice, to successfully challenge the elitism and rectitude of establishment publishing. Publishing is still both a political act and a moral one, and it’s our duty to produce books for the different versions of Canada that exist: the pastoral one, the urban one, the political one, the failed one, the ones yet to come.

So much remains out of our control. The job of a publisher is to be mindful, to read the prevailing circumstances and find a heading that allows our writers to go faster and farther. We are so fortunate in Canada to have a vast sea of literary talent, and here at Anansi we’re already feeling the wind in our sails as we venture onto a new course.

Leigh Nash is the publisher of House of Anansi Press. Previously, she was publisher at Invisible Press and worked at Coach House Books.

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A version of this article appeared in the 09/26/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Charting the Course

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