In House with Palimpsest Press

Palimpsest Press publicist Vanessa Shields joins us to share the storied history behind the award-winning Windsor-based publisher of new and established voices in Canadian literature.

Aimeé Parent Dunn, current publisher; Dawn Marie Kresan, founder of Palimpsest Press


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What’s In A Name? Everything.

The truth is I didn’t know what palimpsest meant when this past September, I was hired as social media support/publicist for Palimpsest Press. I’d been learning so much about publishing – being a publicist, understanding and using social media (hashtags alone are a beast, aren’t they?), and language, which is a distinct and critical part of all the parts – that I didn’t think about what the name meant. But then I got curious about the origins of this press-with-a-peculiar-name, and so began to do some research, both on the history of the press and the meaning of the word. 

Palimpsest Press was founded by Dawn Kresan in 2002, and during its first four years of life, published a literary journal entitled Kaleidoscope: An International Journal of Poetry. The intentions fuelling the journal were to learn about publishing and design, and to network with authors and other publishers. 

By 2005, the press published limited edition hand-bound chapbooks, and in 2006, a website was launched. Remember when a website launch was a big deal! Then, 2007 through 2011 saw the press grow via grant money, distribution, and incorporation; and a decade after that, Palimpsest Press’s authors had not only graced the pages of ever major lit mag in Canada, but their books had been long and short-listed for major awards, as well as taken the cake for top prize. 

The press’s current publisher, Aimeé Parent Dunn, was a friend of Dawn Kresan, the OG publisher. They went to high school together! During her studies in the publishing program at Toronto Metropolitan University, Aimeé was tasked to interview a book publisher, and so, interviewed Dawn. The conversation extended beyond that assignment, and Aimeé became publisher in 2014.

At this point, the press has published 100 books (including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), with an award count nearing sixty. The success of this small press is history in the making, but also…history continued. 

L to R – Aimeé Parent Dunn, current publisher; Dawn Marie Kresan, founder of Palimpsest Press

Palimpsest means: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”1 Perhaps it’s cliché to include a definition in a post about writing and publishing, but I’d like to reclaim this cliché and call it necessary because, really, the power of palimpsest is at the heart of this press. 

A palimpsest is a re-shaping, a re-imagining, a re-visioning of something that still holds the original, the foundation, the heart of that something in its newer version. In this case, the palimpsest of language – how through poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, diversified writers express their voices and share their stories on beautiful paper, wrapped in gorgeous imagery on covers – gets to live and re-live in the hearts and minds of readers. 

Dawn’s original intentions to learn about publishing and design, and to network with authors and other publishers, was inspired by new and old production processes, combining the best of the modern digital age with historical techniques like letterpress printing and foil stamping. This shaped itself into one-of-a-kind chapbooks, then into books with paper that feels as outstanding as the words inked on it, and continues its commitment to beauty and inspiration on and beyond the page. All of this, an example of the rich palimpsest that was first one, then another passionate publisher and her mighty dream to create, cultivate, and share language that inspires.  

What I’ve uncovered and discovered in taking the time to identify the layers that live in the history of this press, enables me to understand the historical significance of one person’s dream, to see (across covers, pressed or printed onto pages) just how extraordinary the evolution of our language can be when met in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. A palimpsest is a marker of many things, and in this case, a maker of many thought-provoking, passionate, ground-breaking, devastating containers of poetics, cultural criticism, and literary biography. 

What began as a little-journal-that-could has developed into a fully-accessible, diversity-fuelled passenger train dedicated to inviting new and established voices in Canadian literature to be a part of the palimpsest. 

What it means to be working at Palimpsest Press is…everything. I get to be a part of a richly-layered palimpsest dream. I’m learning. I’m hopeful. I’m excited to be a part of what language can do.

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Thanks to Vanessa Shields, social media support/publicist at Palimpsest Press, for this very thoughtful history of the press. Check out Palimpsest Press titles here on All Lit Up or from your local indie bookseller.