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2016: The Year in Review

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Leah Horlick, and Gwen Benaway at the Canadian Writers' Summit in June (Photo: Katrina Afonso)

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Leah Horlick, and Gwen Benaway at the Canadian Writers’ Summit in June (Photo: Katrina Afonso)

Our 2015 Year in Review suggested there was reason to feel cautiously optimistic heading into 2016. That prediction was not inaccurate. A new federal government, which seemingly supports open dialogue with authors and publishers, and increased funding from the Canada Council for the Arts underpinned a year of steady business, as many indie booksellers reported profits. It was also a year of self-examination, as discussions about inclusivity and balanced representation began to permeate the books industry. The question going into 2017 is how will we respond to those demands?

Diane Davy, Alana Wilcox, Joanne Saul, Joe Regal during Book Summit at the inaugural Canadian Writers' Summit (Photo: Brian Medina)

Diane Davy, Alana Wilcox, Joanne Saul, Joe Regal during Book Summit at the inaugural Canadian Writers’ Summit (Photo: Brian Medina)

Reaching the Summit
The inaugural edition of the Canadian Writers’ Summit, five days of conferences, readings, panels, and annual general meet­ings, took place in Toronto this June. The event was the end result of two years of planning by 14 industry organizations, with the goal to connect writers, academics, and industry players from across disciplines, practices, and genres. More than 800 professionals attended, and organizers plan to repeat the event every two years.

Let’s be Frankfurt
In October, Canada accepted an invitation to be guest of honour at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest marketplace for book-industry representatives. A committee representing the Canadian book industry had hoped to accept Frankfurt’s earlier invitation to be the 2017 guest of honour (coinciding with the country’s sesquicentennial) but a request for $6.5 million in federal support was denied by the Harper government.

Jared Bland

Jared Bland

Taking the lead at PRH
Penguin Random House Canada announced a “dynamic new direction” in July with three new editorial appointments. Jared Bland, the former Globe and Mail arts editor, was named publisher at McClelland & Stewart, and publisher and vice-president of Penguin Random House Canada. Martha Kanya-Forstner took on the role of editor-in-chief of M&S and Doubleday Canada, and vice-president of PRH Canada, and Amy Black was named publisher of the Doubleday Canada Publishing Group and vice-president of PRH Canada.

Sono Nis in recovery
The offices and warehouse of B.C. press Sono Nis were destroyed by fire in August, while its computer system and archives were at least partly spared. Publisher Diane Morriss says Sono Nis will rebuild on a smaller scale and reprint and redistribute many of its titles. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

Thrill seeker
Shari Lapena seemed an unlikely candidate for Canada’s next big suspense writer. The former lawyer and teacher had two literary novels to her name when her domestic thriller, The Couple Next Door, sold in more than 20 countries, even before its release in August. The book quickly became an international bestseller, establishing Lapena as a name to watch.

Liz Howard

Liz Howard

Winning women
Female authors dominated this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist, with five out of  the six nominations. • Giller winner, Madeleine Thien, won the Governor General’s Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making her one of the most celebrated authors of the award season. • At 31 years old, Liz Howard became the youngest winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize.

Jael Richardson with Lawrence Hill and Farzana Doctor (Photo: Fred Anderson)

Jael Richardson with Lawrence Hill and Farzana Doctor (Photo: Fred Anderson)

In the fold
Author Jael Richardson launched the Festival of Literary Diversity this May in her hometown of Brampton, Ontario. The event was a response to an unsettling trend Richardson had noticed: the majority of writers participating in literary festivals were white – unless there was a panel promoting “diversity.” More than 500 people attended the inaugural FOLD, which featured authors such as Vivek Shraya, Farzana Doctor, Heather O’Neill, and Lawrence Hill.

Righting copyright
This summer, closing arguments were heard in a civil suit brought against Toronto’s York University by royalty collection agency Access Copyright. At issue is the definition of a “fair dealing” rule introduced to the Copyright Act that exempts some educational uses of copyrighted material from payment to the rights holder. The case is also symbolic of the larger issue for a need to redefine copyright as it pertains to educational institutions. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the case.

Galloway investigated
Author Steven Galloway was fired from his job as chair of the University of British Columbia’s creative-writing program follow­ing an internal investigation into what eventually was revealed to be instances of sexual assault and harassment‚ bullying and abuse of power‚ and general misconduct for a faculty member. Galloway was originally suspended last November. The story made news again this fall, when an open letter penned by Joseph Boyden and signed by about 80 CanLit authors condemned UBC for its lack of transparency and “unfair” treatment of Galloway. Several authors quickly removed their name from the letter after a social media storm accused the signees of failing to support and causing pain to assault survivors; others, including Margaret Atwood and Susan Swan, held fast to their decision to sign.

YearinReview_December_TrudeauCoverCivilWarTrudeaumania II
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau followed in his famous father’s footsteps once again this summer when he appeared in a Marvel comic book. In a story Toronto writer Chip Zdarsky called “Trudeau fan fiction,” Canadian super team Alpha Flight seeks out the PM for advice in an issue of Civil War II. (He’s also depicted in full boxing regalia on the cover.) The elder Prime Minister Trudeau was shown, in a somewhat less-flattering light, relaying orders to the same team of heroes in a 1979 edition of The Uncanny X-Men.

Austin Clarke

Austin Clarke


The Canadian book trade lost several members in 2016: George Jonas (Jan. 10), journalist, radio and television writer, and author of 18 books of poetry. Constance Beresford-Howe (Jan. 20), author of novels about independent women in the early days of the feminist movement. Judy Sarick (Feb. 15), kidlit advocate and co-founder of the Toronto’s Children’s Book Store. Coast Salish author Diane Silvey (March 3). Ellen Seligman (March 25), the iconic editor and publisher of McClelland & Stewart, who worked on some of the biggest classics in modern CanLit. Cree author and residential school survivor Larry Loyie (April 18). James Chalmers (April 25), co-founder of the Canadian Manda Group. Artist and writer Darwyn Cooke (May 14), who made a name for himself in mainstream comics with a retro style and a belief that more comics should be aimed at children. Austin Clarke (June 26), winner of numerous literary awards, and author of a dozen novels, short-story and poetry collections, and memoirs. Historian George Ramsay Cook (July 14), who helped define the Canadian identity. Teacher William E. Bell (July 30), who penned 19 books for young readers in a 30-year career. Mel Hurtig (Aug. 3), founder of the bookstore Hurtig Books and creator of The Canadian Encyclopedia. W.P. Kinsella (Sept. 16), the Edmonton-born author of the iconic baseball novel Shoeless Joe. Jim Douglas (Sept. 24), co-founder of publishing house Douglas and McIntyre. Internationally acclaimed poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen (Nov. 7).

(Photo: Erin McPhee)Open for business

Penguin Random House Canada launched a 158-square-foot Penguin-branded bookshop in the lobby of its downtown Toronto headquarters, carrying a rotating collection of titles and iconic merchandise. ♦ Author Michelle Berry opened Hunter Street Books in her hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, this fall.  Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop packed up its home of 35 years for a newly renovated location featuring an event space and café. ♦ James MacDonald fulfilled his dream by opening the Printed Word in Dundas, Ontario, along with an affiliated small press, Shapes and Sounds, specializing in poetry for children. ♦ Toronto’s only dedicated poetry bookshop, knife|fork|book, opened in the back of Rick’s Café in Kensington Market.

Healing words
YearinReview_December_SecretPathFollowing last December’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report, this year saw a marked increase in titles addressing the horrors of Canada’s residential school system, and the need for healing within indigenous communities. Two books, in particular, put a human face on the pain: Joseph Boyden’s novel Wenjack, illustrated by Ken Monkman, and Gord Downie’s graphic novel Secret Path, illustrated by Jeff Lemire, both of which are dedicated to the memory of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966 trying to escape from the Cecilia
Jeffrey Indian Residential School.

Books on the rock
It was a tough year for book lovers in Newfoundland and Labrador. In April, the provincial government announced a 10 per cent tax on books, making Newfoundland the only province to carry such a levy. Publishers and authors rallied, protesting in an open letter that “books are not luxury items.” A week later came the news that more than half of the province’s public libraries were slated to close due to budget cuts. Again, the books community protested, claiming that the closure of 54 branches – the majority of which are in rural areas – would harm some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens. Though it later appeared as if there was some hope of reversal, a public meeting held in October to discuss the fate of the libraries turned ugly when attendees walked out after it was discovered the meeting was being run by international consulting company EY, without any elected provincial representative there to answer questions.

green gablesScreen queens
Some of CanLit’s most iconic works caught the attention of Hollywood, with three television adaptations in production – all airing in 2017 – north of the border this year.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Written by Bruce Miller (The 100), with
Atwood on board as consulting producer. Reed Morano (Vinyl) will direct the first three episodes. Starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter), and Samira Wiley (Orange Is The New Black).

Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
Written and executive produced by Sarah Polley (Away From Her), and directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho). Starring Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis), Zachary Levi (Chuck), and Anna Paquin (True Blood).

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Co-executive produced and written by Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad) with the two-hour premiere directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider). Starring Amybeth McNulty (Morgan), and Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes).


  1. Governor General’s Literary Awards (80)
  2. Association of Canadian Publishers (40)
  3. Book City (40)
  4. Canadian Children’s Book Centre (40)
  5. Turnstone Press (40)
  6. Signature Editions (30)
  7. Edna Staebler Award for Creative
  8. Non-fiction (25)
  9. Conundrum Press (20)
  10. Writers’ Trust of Canada (20)
  11. Whistler Writers Festival (15)
  12. Type Books (10)