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by Peter Midgley
“I want the book to reveal something to me. To reveal something about being human; a revelation,”
—Micheline Maylor, poetry acquisitions editor for Frontenac House
Frontenac House is a creation of the new millennium, for the new millennium. When David and Rose Scollard founded the press in 2000, their idea was to publish poetry that would press against the establishment and push marginalized voices to the centre—long before this became a social agenda. Since then, Frontenac has published a range of books, but that initial commitment to poetry and to pushing boundaries remains as strong today as it was on the first day.
Publisher Neil Petrunia says that when it comes to acquisitions, the focus is definitely on poetry, but the press maintains an openness to things that are outside that wheelhouse. “If someone brings an awesome project that is not poetry, will be fun to work on, and has an audience, we will look at it. We won’t turn it down.”
Micheline Maylor, Frontenac’s poetry acquisitions editor, talks about Sharanpal Ruprai’s Seva, and how the manuscript affected her when she first saw it: “I’m never going to be closeted Sikh and know what it’s like to have that first kiss with all of that loaded experience behind it.” What drives the passion for books at Frontenac House is the sense of knowing that what the press puts on the page reveals the fullest extent of human experience and brings readers to a world they could not experience themselves.
“I like making books,” Neil says. “The process of making books. There are always books that take us by surprise. Take Pierrette Requier’s details from the edge of the village. She’s just prepared an audiobook in French and in English, and in the process of putting that together, we discovered that the book was going into its third printing—that’s quite something for poetry. We love David and Rose for their willingness to take on poets despite the financial challenges and hope to continue doing that.”
Neil is excited to talk about future plans, like possibly publishing literary fiction. “Poetry is not the only part of the literary landscape, and as a literary press, we recognize that. But we have to make sure everything is in place before we commit to doing more than the poetry books we currently do.”
“We must have the capacity and passion to carry it through,” says Micheline. In a small press, those are precious commodities, so she insists that all Frontenac books reveal an attentiveness to craft—to form and language. “I want the book to reveal something to me. To reveal something about being human; a revelation,” Micheline insists.
The conversation turns to the challenges of selling books in the American market. It is hard to find a distributor who will take on a small catalogue like Frontenac’s. Faced with these difficulties, small Canadian presses often have to sell their books on Amazon, which can be a money-losing proposition. Still, there are benefits, like having Lisa Richter’s Nautilus and Bone win the National Jewish Book Awards Berru Award. These American accolades help to push sales in Canada, making up for some of the sales revenue that was lost to the pandemic.
Both Neil and Micheline emphasize that, especially with poetry, it is authors who drive sales. If authors can’t promote their books, their works don’t sell. The author-centric nature of poetry made life difficult during the pandemic when everything moved online. Strictly online events may have expanded an author’s reach and increased audience sizes, but they lacked the visceral quality of an in-person event that draws people to the book table. As things open up, Frontenac plans to continue with hybrid events, “Our job as publishers is to facilitate the authors—we will get the books where the authors are; we send out for awards; set up for readings,” says Neil.
Micheline gets animated when she talks about the books that are part of the spring releases. “Skylar Kay’s Transcribing Moonlight has got elegance and flow and these elements come together in a way that just feels yummy.”
Yummy books. I’m sold. And that’s the thing with Frontenac’s books: they fill the nascent spring air with the blossoming yumminess of poetry.