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Winnipeg’s Great Plains Publications changes hands

Gregg Shilliday and Ingeborg Boyens

A quarter-century after appearing on the Prairies publishing scene in Winnipeg, Great Plains Publications is seeing changes in its leadership with the departure of publisher Gregg Shilliday and executive editor Ingeborg Boyens.

Shilliday and Boyens will stay on as consulting editors, according to the Great Plains website. Marketing director Mel Marginet has been named the new publisher of the press, and Catharina de Bakker, who has been with the house in various roles since 2007, has been promoted to editorial director.

Great Plains was founded in 1992 by former journalists Shilliday and Boyens, who wanted to publish trade non-fiction for and about the Prairies. The vision was to create full-colour books for non-academics, which was not the least ambitious gambit for a fledgling regional publisher in Canada. “In our innocence, we didn’t realize that most publishers sensibly started out with poetry chapbooks that wouldn’t endanger their mortgages,” says Shilliday. The first publications the house produced were the Manitoba 125 series of books, and in 2007 it brought out The Encyclopedia of Manitoba, an 850-page reference work that retails for $100.

The publisher “successfully reinvented the Harbour Publishing or Breakwater Books model” of catering to regional audiences, writes Roy MacSkimming in his book The Perilous Trade: Book Publishing in Canada 1946–2006. “Wherever they live, people love to read about their own part of the world.”

In 2008, the press launched a literary imprint, Enfield & Wizenty, which bears the maiden names of Shilliday and Boyens’s mothers. Over the past 10 years, E&W has published fiction by W.P. Kinsella, Michelle Berry, Jeff Bursey, Richard Van Camp, Elaine McCluskey, and Méira Cook, among others. The middle-grade imprint Yellow Dog was inaugurated in 2017.

“I am most excited about our new imprint,” says Marginet, “which sees us expanding upon our books for teens into the middle-grade market, which is new for us.”

Marginet is also keen on exploring opportunities to open up the publisher’s lists into the audiobook sector. “I have worked as a theatre producer and professional actor in Winnipeg,” she says, “and I know we have the technicians, voice actors, and studios necessary to see Winnipeg producing audiobooks right here in the city. I’m passionate about bringing artists and disciplines together.”

De Bakker is equally enthusiastic about opportunities to expand the horizons for the publisher in the coming years. “I hope we can grow this non-fiction imprint to include more stories about our region from the perspective of communities who haven’t always had a voice,” she says. “I don’t see us changing the imprints drastically, but I do hope that we can seek out more stories from people of colour, non-binary communities, and refugees.”

The change in leadership also ensures a sense of continuity, as both Marginet and de Bakker are veteran employees familiar with the day-to-day operations of the publisher and its imprints. “We love the idea of long-time staff who know the company and its values preparing to go in brave new directions,” says Boyens.

“We were honoured that Gregg and Inge trusted us to carry Great Plains Publications forward, as we were both already so involved and committed to the organization,” says de Bakker.

“And the readers are still there, unlike newspapers,” adds Boyens. “So the adventure continues.”