On Oct. 25, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre honoured Second Story Press’s Margie Wolfe, for her work as a feminist, social justice activist, and – for the last 40 years – a powerhouse in the Canadian children’s publishing industry. Wolfe and the company she built is known for publishing works with a social conscience meant to educate as well as entertain young readers.
Throughout the night, friends, family members, and colleagues spoke of her commitment, generosity, resilience, and humour. Apparently, Wolfe is so loyal that she went to the same dentist until he was in his 100s – and now goes to his nephew, who is in his 70s.
The night’s emcee, CBC host Michael Enright, spoke of Wolfe as a friend, who recently flew home from the Frankfurt Book Fair, went straight to a root canal appointment, then to a book launch, then to Enright’s house to check on how he was recovering from a cold. “That was all in one day,” he told the crowd. Fellow publisher Rick Wilks (Annick Press) spoke of Wolfe’s eye for the absurd and how when you’re with her “there’s going to be laughter.” Author Kathy Kacer, who’s written many books for Second Story, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, was only just beginning to describe Wolfe when she called her “an exceptional children’s book publisher, a passionate activist, someone who has stood for women’s rights, Holocaust remembrance, and any number of social issues – and a trend-setting fashionista.”
While this was by no means a roast, all presenters joked about Wolfe’s eccentric fashion sense, and love of grandiose accessories, jewellery, and shoes. Many in the audience – and in a video featuring publishing colleagues from around the world – were wearing flamboyant jewellery in her honour.
Wolfe was overwhelmed by the speeches and used part of her time on stage to give a tribute to fellow feminist, social justice activist, friend, and long-time bookseller Sheila Koffman, who passed away in September. After thanking those in the sold-out crowd, which included most of the other children’s publishers in the country, Wolfe said she never saw them as competitors and never worried about what books they were putting out. She said she was just doing her own thing: “When I started as a publisher 40 years ago, I was a feminist – and I’m a feminist publisher today. The definition of that has broadened in terms of the work we do in social justice, human rights, Holocaust, Indigenous rights. We do all that. But we hardly ever stray beyond the definition of what I always wanted.”