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A Press from Scratch: Behind the scenes of Hush Harbour Press

Octavia Butler

This article is the first part of a series jointly hosted by Quill & Quire and Hush Harbour Press. Visit hushharbour.com to find more information and ways to financially support Hush Harbour Press.

Why a Hush Harbour? Hush Harbour Press is an intersectional publishing house, co-founded by Alannah Johnson and Whitney French, envisioning Black futures through literary and sonic storytelling with an emphasis on the revival of short fiction. In June 2020, Hush Harbour announced its arrival as the newest literary press in Canada.

/hǝSH ’härbǝr/

“[A] nighttime gathering where a discrete space would be chosen by the amount of trees in that area. A branch would be broken by the first person there and everyone would know to go in that direction. There would be quilts put up to muffle and soundproof the space and what would happen in these temporary spaces would be planning resistance, storytelling, gossiping and a place to just be that was in ways a small taste of freedom.” –Blacknesses Between Us, Vol. 1, Bisha Mohamed and Ashai Nicolas, 2016

This year, we at Hush Harbour Press embarked on our own journey toward liberation. Launching on June 22 – a date chosen to honour and celebrate the legacy of Octavia E. Butler – Hush Harbour reflects on the historical and symbolic roots of our namesake by carving out a space for a particular type of liberation. It requires us to hold space for storytelling, memory, resistance, and existence.

Deeply inspired by multidisciplinary performance artist Camille Turner and her remarkable work HUSH HARBOUR (a sonic walk project outlining Black histories and geographies by using archival and Afrofuturistic imagining), we envision our press to be one of many gathering places for Black people in Canada and across the diaspora. We draw guidance from Turner and so many other Black feminists, including the now-shuttered publisher Sister Vision Press, who fearlessly explore the complexities of Black life in Canada. No doubt, the task of building a press is a massive undertaking, not simply in publishing and selling books but also in continuing the rich, nuanced, often erased or invisible legacy of Black writing in this country.

Before we announced the press to the world, we practiced starbursting, an alternative to brainstorming that doesn’t require solutions. In these columns, we want to explicitly share some of the tools that are helping us shape the press, beginning with this concept. Starbursting is a tool we use to invite authentic collaboration. It can include partnering with another organization and offering room for thoughtful pause, layered ideas, and experimentation. It can focus on decentring power in our decision-making processes. Although we are not naive to the notion that collaboration doesn’t always work, it is integral to support each other’s energy. It gives us a fighting chance journeying forward. And when we think about stars as a continuum, it makes a lot of sense for Black peoples: we would follow the North Star, seeking liberation; we would gather in our hush harbours under starlight. More recently, our literary ancestor Octavia E. Butler reminds us in Parable of the Sower that “our destiny is to take root among the stars.”

Starting a press from scratch begins, for us, with a name. One that can hold the intentions of our vision, one that carries the weight of legacy we’ve inherited, and one that points us toward futures we wish to live in. As this series continues, we will share the nuts and bolts of getting a press started: how we develop systems and frameworks; what our ethics and politics look like in the day-to-day and in our editorial process. It all begins with the act of naming. We invite you into our Hush Harbour.

In resistance,

Alannah and Whitney



By: Alannah Johnson and Whitney French

September 24th, 2020

12:13 pm

Category: Bookselling

Issue Date: Oct 2020

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