While other parts of the world officially observe Women's History Month, we're joining in to celebrate amazing women in Canada and beyond.
This month, we're putting a spotlight on books by and about women and the people behind them. First up is BC-based Caitlin Press, a fiercely independent publisher with a commitment to feminist books, LGBTQ+ authors, and bold works by and about BC women. Read on for the origin story of Caitlin Press and check out a sampling of rad books they're publishing today.
Caitlin Press will celebrate 45 years as an independent Canadian publisher. Located in beautiful British Columbia, the press was initially established in 1977 by Carolyn Zonailo, a poet and editor. It was the first literary small press in BC both owned and managed by women; Zonailo joined forces with editors Cathy Ford and Ingrid Klassen, and in the 1980s they expanded the mandate to that of a BC literary press. Some of the notable books published in this first era of the press were Mouth for Music by Mona Fertig, Family Album by poet Stephen Morrissey, and Animus by Penn Kemp.
In 1991, Zonailo sold the press to Cynthia Wilson and her partner Ken Carling. Wilson and Carling moved the business to Prince George, quickly establishing themselves as the trade publisher of the Central Interior of BC. Wilson continued publishing after the death of Ken Carling, and stayed true to Zonailo’s original mandate, supporting and publishing a wide variety of BC women’s literature. For 14 years as publisher, Wilson brought a strong sense of place to the press, publishing local books by writers of BC’s central interior such as Forbidden Mountains by Vivien Lougheed, the late poet Ken Belford, and Ginter by Jan-Udo Wenzel. From 1991 until her passing in 2005, Wilson published 67 books.
When Vici Johnstone purchased the press in March 2008, production had been at a stand-still since Wilson’s death. Under Johnstone’s direction, Caitlin Press re-committed to its feminist origins and BC roots, while expanding the catalogue to reflect the diverse cultures and histories of the province. Caitlin Press publishes bold works by and about BC women for a local and national readership, and culturally significant nonfiction books from unique perspectives.
Publisher Vici Johnstone
One of the first titles Johnstone acquired was A Well-Mannered Storm by Kate Braid, who has continued to publish with Caitlin Press, most recently Hammer & Nail: Notes from a Journeywoman (2020). Award-winning author Lily Chow has also stuck with Caitlin Press—her first book, Sojourners in the North, was published by Wilson in 1996 and won the Jeanne Clarke History Book Award, and her latest book, Blossoms in the Gold Mountain, published in 2018 by Johnstone, was a finalist for the BC Historical Writing Award.
In 2015, Johnstone received the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award from the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, which honours an individual for their extraordinary contribution to the BC publishing community and their commitment to excellence in publishing.
Since acquiring the press, Johnstone has also worked to expand the literary mandate to greater reflect the lives and writing of LGBTQ+ people in Canada. Caitlin Press published Leaving Now by Arleen Paré, For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick, and Steeling Affects by Jane Byers. To further this mandate, the imprint Dagger Editions was launched in 2016 for literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry by and about queer women (those who identify as queer women, including trans women or trans men, or anyone who includes this in their personal history). The inaugural book published under the Dagger Editions imprint was Oscar of Between by Betsy Warland.
Caitlin Press has been owned by three dedicated women over the past 44 years and continues to be committed to publishing culturally significant books, women’s voices, marginalized writers, and most of all, stories that need telling.
Check out some recent Caitlin Press books by and about womxn
At eight years old, Grace Eiko Nishikihama was forcibly removed from her Vancouver home and interned with her parents and siblings, and more than 22,000 other Japanese Canadians who lived on the West Coast. Chiru Sakura—Falling Cherry Blossoms is a moving and politically outspoken memoir written by Grace, now a grandmother, with passages from a journal kept by her late mother.
BIG is a collection of personal and intimate experiences of plus size women, non-binary and trans people in a society obsessed with thinness. Revealing insights that are both funny and traumatic, surprising and challenging, familiar and unexpected, 26 writers explore themes as diverse as self-perception, body image, fashion, fat activism, food, sexuality, diet culture, motherhood and more.
For many, the Doukhobor story is a sensational one: arson, nudity and civil disobedience once made headlines. But it isn’t the whole story. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun is an intricately woven, richly textured memoir of a family’s determination to live in peace and community in the face of controversy and unrest.
In trademark lyric prose, Warland’s roving observations in and around Vancouver’s Lost Lagoon offer insights into nature, narratives, and the urban environment. Reminiscent of Henry Thoreau’s Walden Pond, perceptions about nurturing, fear, inventiveness, delight, death, protection, humour, even tenderness change as the lagoon has exposed what being human in the twenty-first century actually means.
Francine Cunningham lives with constant reminders that she doesn’t fit the desired expectations of the world: she is a white-passing, city-raised Indigenous woman with mental illness who has lost her mother. In her award-nominated debut poetry collection On/Me, Cunningham explores, with keen attention and poise, what it means to be forced to exist within the margins.
The third collection by award-winning poet Fiona Tinwei Lam, exploring what it means to live in an environment constantly under threat and that challenges our perceptions of the everyday, transforming the mundane into the sublime.
Gibson's debut book is a collection of genre-blurring poems about the representation of Black women, their hearts, minds and bodies, across the Canadian cultural imagination. Finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and winner of the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, How She Read turns the very act of reading into a form of resistance.
Award-winning historian Jean Barman narrates the story of a family of mixed Indigenous and white descent and the prejudice they faced in BC—a long-ignored aspect of the province’s history. Through meticulous research, family records and a personal connection, Barman shares the story of her friend, Irene Kelleher, the first BC woman of Indigenous heritage to be awarded a teaching certificate and was an elementary school principal during the Second World War.
Sybil Andrews was one of Canada’s most prominent artists working throughout the late twentieth century. In this first fully illustrated biography, Janet Nicol weaves together stories from Andrews’ letters, diaries and interviews from her former students and friends, creating a portrait of this determined, resilient and gifted British-Canadian artist.
There’s no straightforward path to LGBTQ2 parenthood and just as every queer person has their own coming out story, every LGBTQ2 family has a unique conception or adoption story. In a groundbreaking anthology, Swelling with Pride, creative non-fiction writers celebrate LGBTQ2 families and the myriad of ways we embark upon our parenting journeys.
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Thanks to Monica Miller at Caitlin Press for sharing the story of the press with us and for the roundup of fab books!
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