Summary of Event

Publishing Unbound began with a public event on Friday, February 9, 2018 advertised as “an evening on the future of publishing in Canada.” This event was free but ticketed through Eventbrite, with roughly 130 people in attendance. It was moderated by co-organizer Erin Wunker, and included talks and readings from Jordan Abel, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, and David Chariandy. It also included a traditional welcome from Elder Ray Thunderchild and an ASL interpreter. Original plans for this event were somewhat modified as, mere hours before the event began, news broke that Gerald Stanley had been found not-guilty in the murder of Coulten Boushie, an event that spoke clearly of the violent colonial foundation of Canada and the ongoing violences that characterize Canadian society. Dr. Wunker and Ms. Akiwenzie-Damm directly referenced this event in their remarks, and the following day several organizers and participants took an extended lunch to participate in the protest outside the CBC in Vancouver.

Saturday’s program consisted of group introductions plus four focused conversations in which participants offered brief remarks before moderators opened the floor for general discussion. During the introductions, some key concerns arose, including how those of us who teach in publishing programs can encourage a focus on feminism, gender and sexuality, and anti-oppression; how we can decolonize publishing; what comes after inclusion; how we can support others and build opportunities in the publishing industry; economic justice; tackling unconscious exclusion and bias; and how we can share our struggles while learning to thrive amongst those struggles. Participants also agreed that they would like to focus on moving from theoretical conversations to practical ways forward. 

Panel 1: Activism and Small Presses in Canada included speakers Hazel Millar, Hope Nicholson, Ashley Opheim, and Cynara Geissler. A common theme of their remarks was a need for community support and conversation between small presses, with a focus on publishers supporting one another in the right to push back on and critique over-restrictive grant guidelines. The conversation focused on the possibilities of sustainable, collective funding models, including cooperatives and unions. 

Panel 2: Indigenous Publishing in the Wake of the TRC featured Jordan Abel, Greg Younging, and Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. (Deanna Reder was unable to attend for personal reasons.) The presenters spoke about the long history of reconciliation as a project in Canada, the ongoing shortage of Indigenous editors, and the risk that non-Indigenous editors are publishing Indigenous stories as a trend rather than a long-term commitment. Discussing the relationship between publishing and politics, speakers addressed how the work of publishers is to “prepare the ground” for reconciliation and pointed to the Indigenous Editors Circle at Humber College as a promising program for training Indigenous editors. Conversation also turned to the tension between a “ticking the boxes” approach to publishing Indigenous stories versus a meaningful and sustainable engagement with Indigenous creators and communities. 

Panel 3: Magazines, Communities, and Social Change included Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Fazeela Jiwa, Leanne Johnson, Karla Comanda, and Jónina Kirton. Their remarks addressed structural issues within magazine publishing, including the use of literary contests to fund publishing and the normalization of unpaid internships, as well as the high risk of burnout and exhaustion for underpaid cultural works, particularly women of colour. Conversation also addressed the pivot from print- to digital-first publishing models, tactics for bringing in contributions from writers with diverse backgrounds, barriers to accessibility and inclusivity, building platforms for new writers, and expanding review culture. 

Panel 4: Intergenerational Mentorships and Other Practical Models for Change featured Laura Moss, Adèle Barclay, Phoebe Wang, and Léonicka Valcius. The speakers remarked on shifting funding models and their impact on established publishing ventures, the need to openly address the power dynamics in our professional relationships and mentorships, and the particular need for more women of colour to mentor those starting in the publishing industry. Conversation also turned to accessibility and the need to increased support for publishers who want to prioritize accessibility at their events. 

The event concluded on Sunday with an open discussion of what to do next. The organizers emphasized that we would like to see similar such events in the future, but that we are aware of our limitations and believe future iterations should be organized by others. Participants wanted to stay in touch and continue to collaborate, connect, and share resources to mitigate the sense many have of working in isolation. They discussed the desire to build a “culture of care” in publishing in which exhaustion and burnout are not the norm. They also emphasized the need not to think of this event as decisive or final; the issues discussed over these three days are far too complex and will need many more such discussions. In addition to future iterations of similar events, concrete suggestions included information guides for event organizers (including lists of accessible venues and checklists for organizing an accessible event), a shared code of ethics, an accessible hub of resources on related topics, and a platform for sharing resources.