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2017 Year in Review: The year’s biggest headlines

Margaret Atwood and Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss

Everything’s Atwood

This was the year the world discovered long-struggling Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Her 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was turned into a 10-part Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss that went on to win five Emmys and receive a second season renewal. Meanwhile, Atwood’s 1996 novel, Alias Grace, was also adapted into a six-part CBC/Netflix miniseries written and produced by Sarah Polley. Atwood was further honoured with the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. None of which entirely overshadowed a NIMBY controversy in which the author battled the development of a midrise condo in her Toronto neighbourhood.

Indigo’s revenue rises

Indigo Books and Music reported record first-quarter revenue numbers, totalling $203.6 million. Credit for the double-digit growth was given to the store’s general merchandise business, while book sales remained “healthy.”

Diversity in motion

Although at times it feels like the discussion over the need for greater diversity in Canadian publishing amounts to little more than lip service, several 2017 initiatives put talk into action. The Indigenous Editors Circle, which moved to Toronto’s Humber College this summer, saw 20 presses represented, with 34 non-Indigenous participants and nine Indigenous editors taking part. • Buckrider Books invited Jordan Abel, Jen Sookfong Lee, and Canisia Lubrin to sit on its newly formed editorial board, ensuring diversity not just of the small press’s future authors, but behind the scenes as well. • The Festival of Literary Diversity announced an accessibility committee that would consult on how to better accommodate both authors and audiences.

Accountable arguments

In November 2016, an open letter penned by Joseph Boyden and signed by a troop of high-profile authors demonstrated not only the power of the pen, but the fragile state of Canadian publishing. #UBCAccountable – which condemned the University of British Columbia’s treatment of Steven Galloway after “serious allegations” were made against the former chairperson of the school’s creative-writing program – exploded into fierce, divisive arguments about class and privilege in CanLit that continued unabated throughout 2017. Although it’s too early to predict whether this fissure can be healed, UBC has moved on, hiring Montreal-born author Alix Ohlin as its incoming creative-writing chair.

Hal Wake

Wake up and out

For 17 years, Hal Wake’s name has been synonymous with the Vancouver Writers Fest, but earlier this year, the long-time artistic director, celebrated for his author-first approach to programming, announced he would be stepping down following the October 2017 event.

Rewarding new voices

In its citation for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the jury categorized 2017’s submissions as “a year of outliers,” which was reflected in their selections that included unconventional works by debut authors David Demchuk, Zoey Leigh Peterson, and Michelle Winters, whose novel, I Am a Truck, went on to make the shortlist. In a year dominated by talk about the need for new voices, it appears other juries were also seeking books that engage in fresh ways. Debut authors Carleigh Baker (see page 17) and Omar El Akkad appeared on the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize shortlist, while Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Prize for Nonfiction.

Eye on the prizes

Future winners of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize will have to invest in new wallets now that the prize has doubled its purse to $50,000, with each of the four finalists receiving $5,000. • In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the international Cundill History Prize relaunched with a new brand identity, advisory committee, and jury.

HC and Harlequin get cozier

HarperCollins acquired Harlequin Enterprises from Torstar for $455 million back in 2014, but this year saw a greater consolidation of the two companies when Harlequin CEO and publisher Craig Swinwood was promoted to CEO of both publishers in June. Toronto-based staff from the two publishers will merge in one downtown office space in spring 2018.

Access Copyright denied

After four years in the courts, Access Copyright won a landmark case against York University when a judge determined the school’s fair-dealing practices did not meet the requirements of Canada’s Copyright Act. Earlier in the year, Access Copyright warned creators the amount it will distribute in 2017 was anticipated to drop to $5 million – a 55 per cent decrease directly attributed to a reduction in revenue from the educational sector. While the court’s decision was applauded by copyright holders, the celebration was put on hold in August when York announced it would appeal the decision.

Culture clash

Heritage Minster Mélanie Joly announced the federal government’s new cultural strategy in September. Books received little mention – not a surprise considering Joly’s initial advisory panel was stacked mainly with members of the film and television industries. The new policy calls for “adjustments” to the Canada Book Fund, including support for “innovative approaches” (read: digital) to marketing and promotions, though there was no word whether the adjustments will include a financial increase to the fund.

Tax on, tax off

The Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government reversed an earlier decision and will eliminate a 10 per cent harmonized sales tax on books, following community protests led by literary figures including author Lisa Moore. The tax will be removed in January 2018.

Gables’ gains

The internationally aired CBC–Netflix adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables, which was renewed for a second season, was both praised and criticized for its dark, moody take on the pigtailed orphan. Hoping to take advantage of the new fan base, a merchandising deal was struck between Toronto’s Breakthrough Entertainment and the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority.

Samantha Haywood

Samantha Haywood

Agent management

In October, the Cooke and McDermid agencies announced plans to merge. The newly named CookeMcDermid will be co-owned by Dean Cooke and Sally Harding of Cooke, and Chris Bucci and Martha Webb of McDermid. • Transatlantic Agency co-founder and president David Bennett sold his controlling interest in the business to agency partner Samantha Haywood. Bennett will serve as chairman emeritus; Lynn Bennett, Transatlantic’s other co-founder, will remain as treasurer. Two additional agents, Marilyn Biderman and Rob Firing, also joined, the latter focusing on a new speaker service.

Appropriation outrage

An opinion piece in Write, the Writers’ Union of Canada members’ publication, resulted in the resignation of its editor, Hal Niedzviecki. In his introduction to an issue devoted to Indigenous writers, Niedzviecki wrote, “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation. In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” He found little agreement, and the union quickly apologized to its members. Niedzviecki’s tongue-in-cheek call for an “appropriation prize” was taken up in earnest by several members of the media, including Jonathan Kay, then editor of The Walrus, who resigned from his position soon after.

Second-wave scandal

The Vancouver Women’s Library got off to a rocky start on Feb. 3, when protestors representing trans women and sex workers, as well as Indigenous, Black, and other marginalized groups, disrupted the opening-night party for the volunteer-run space. Among their demands was a call for the removal of 21 titles in the collection that were “written by non-trans women and non-sex workers that dehumanize, speak over, and advocate harm.” The library has since moved into a larger space, and purchased more trans-centred books and titles offering varying points of view on the sex trade. • Across the country in Montreal, the six-person collective that runs L’Euguélionne, Montreal’s new feminist non-profit bookstore, saw an opportunity to address issues inherent in many second-wave publications by finding ways to identity the problematic texts, such as book markers and signs.

Joseph Boyden

Boyden’s background

Joseph Boyden’s Indigenous roots were called into question in late 2016 after an investigative piece appeared on APTN outlining the bestselling author’s claims to various ancestries over his career. The controversy made national headlines again in August, when the author wrote an essay for Maclean’s, suggesting Indigenous identity was not decided by DNA, but rather the acceptance of family and community. Several days later, The Globe and Mail ran an extensive report digging into Boyden’s personal and family history.

Nelson grows up

Nelson Education, Canada’s largest educational publisher, took over the K–12 business holdings of competitor McGraw-Hill Ryerson in May, under the ambitious leadership of its new president and CEO, Steve Brown. Nelson also acquired Westhall Apparel and Campus Hoods Athletics, which Brown says will help meet student demands for school-branded clothing while keeping the company’s overall distribution costs and retail prices down.

Nearly NAFTA 

The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement remains in limbo as the U.S. continues to put forth renegotiation proposals that both Canada and Mexico deem unacceptable. But before entering into the talks in August, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made it clear that maintaining NAFTA’s cultural exception, which aims to protect Canada’s publishing and broadcast industries, was one of the federal government’s top priorities. More than 100 authors and artists reinforced its importance when they signed an open letter in September asking the government to ensure the exception remains intact.

Vivek Shraya (Alejandro Santiago)

New imprints and presses

Woodbridge Farms Books, an offshoot of the Woodbridge Farm Writers’ Retreat. • VS. Books, an Arsenal Pulp Press imprint overseen by author Vivek Shraya, focused on racialized writers. • Robin’s Egg Books, Arsenal’s new humour line from comedian Charles Demers. • A Feed Dog Book, a surrealist poetry imprint from Anvil Press, edited by Stuart Ross. • Walrus Imprint, a collaboration between House of Anansi Press, the Walrus Foundation, and the Chawkers Foundation championing long-form journalism. • Dare, a new “sexy contemporary” Harlequin imprint, replaces the former Blaze line. • Curiosity House Books, a new venture by the Collingwood, Ontario, bookseller.

Bookstore expansions

In June, Mastermind, Canada’s largest children’s book and toy retailer, announced plans to open 11 new stores across Canada. • A Different Booklist, the Toronto store specializing in titles from the African and Caribbean diasporas, was forced to move from its Mirvish Village location in February. Its new 2,000-square-foot space across the street accommodates the shop and a non-profit cultural centre. • Hamilton’s Bryan Prince Bookseller began renting desk space out to writers during the off hours of its in-store performance area. • Long-time Sackville, New Brunswick, retailer Tidewater Books took over the remainder of its 2,000-square-foot space following the departure of former retail partner the Crofter Gifts & Toys. • Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, moved from the Yonge Street location it had occupied for 35 of its 47 years to a new location on Church Street in Toronto’s gay village. The new Glad Day features a performance space and a café.

Bookstore openings and closings

Opened: Queen Street Books (Toronto) • Le Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (Montreal) • The Book Wardrobe (Mississauga, Ontario). Closed: Librairie Astro (Montreal) • Kaleidoscope Kids Books (Ottawa) • Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks (Vancouver)

Anniversaries

Ben McNally Books (10) • Koyama Press (10) • The Cooke Agency (25) • Another Story Bookshop (30) • Between the Lines (40) • Dundurn (45) • House of Anansi Press (50) • Tundra Books (50) • Scholastic Canada (60)

GIller founder Jack Rabinovitch (Tom Sandler)

Deaths

Jack Rabinovitch, business executive and Officer of the Order of Canada who initiated the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 1994 to honour his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. Rabinovitch’s aim was to promote and sell Canadian books to a broad readership. Since then, the Giller Prize has grown to one of the most influential and lucrative literary awards in the country (Aug. 6). • Leonard Cohen, poet, songwriter (Nov. 7, 2016). • Mel Bolen, founder of Bolen Books, one of Canada’s largest independents (Dec. 21, 2016). • Patricia Bow, author of sci-fi and fantasy books for children (Jan. 7). • Bharati Mukherjee, Indian-American author and professor (Jan. 28). • Norah McClintock, YA mystery author (Feb. 6). • Richard B. Wright, author of the award-winning Clara Callan (Feb. 7). • Stuart McLean, host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Café, author of the Vinyl Café series of books, and Officer of the Order of Canada (Feb. 15). • Bonnie Burnard, award-winning author, best known for her Giller-winning A Good House (March 4). • Richard Wagamese, Ojibway author and journalist, and son of residential school survivors (March 10). • Avie Bennett, former M&S publisher, philanthropist, and business executive (June 2). • Jim Wong-Chu, community activist, author, and founder of Ricepaper magazine (July 11). • Jan Andrews, children’s author and founding president of Storytellers of Canada (Sept. 2). • Sheila Koffman, social advocate, founder and owner of Toronto’s Another Story Bookshop (Sept. 15). • Gord Downie, songwriter, author of The Secret Path, and Member of the Order of Canada (Oct. 17). • Sheila Barry, publisher of Groundwood Books (Nov. 15).