Ask Anita Chong about the success of authors whose stories have appeared in the Journey Prize anthology and she exclaims, “I’m a proud mother hen! I’m always happy when my babies go out and do well.” After 16 years running the career-launching award – administered by Chong’s employer, McClelland & Stewart, and funded by the Writers’ Trust of Canada – her sense of ownership is understandable.
“I’m always telling people, this is how you discover the next generation of great Canadian writers,” she says. What she hopes to see more of is a reflection of that generation’s diversity, noting that while published works by minority authors have increased over the decades, “we could have more.”
The Journey Prize, with its submissions from journals including Room, Maple Tree Supplement, and Plenitude, and policy of jurors “blind reading” the stories, is “giving writers as many opportunities as possible to publish, to be read, and to enter another part of the larger ecosystem,” she says.
Chong’s role is impressive: an accomplished senior editor of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional graphic novel who has worked her way up through the ranks at M&S since starting in subsidiary rights in 1997, she also acts as in-house poetry editor (though acquisitions are handled by M&S’s poetry board and publisher Ellen Seligman – whom Chong says “has been a mentor with a capital M”). Chong has recently seen her acquisition and editorial duties increase, “a development I’m very excited about as it will allow me to focus my energies on continuing to build a strong, dynamic list of writers.”
If Chong is proud of her Journey Prize authors, she is equally thrilled by the success of books she’s acquired and edited, including Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things, JJ Lee’s The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, and Eleanor Catton’s two novels. Of Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries, Chong says, “The sheer exhilaration of reading the manuscript for the very first time – and without benefit of knowing what the book was about – is an experience I will never forget.” – DC