Sunday, October 21, 2007

Yesterday's Globe on House of Anansi's 40th Birthday

'The big guys keep being surprised by us'

The House of Anansi began in a rented basement, but 40 years on, it's ready to hit the big leagues, James Adams writes
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
October 20, 2007 at 9:40 AM EDT
(In the photo: House of Anansi President Sarah MacLachlan, chairman Scott Griffin and publisher Lynn Henry. (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail))

TORONTO — The house that first housed the House of Anansi is still standing near the University of Toronto on Spadina Avenue, its facade with the impressive Beaux Arts and Second Empire flourishes now squished between Daddyo's Pasta & Salads and the Wing Ho Funeral Home.

There's a heritage plaque by the front door, but it doesn't identify 671 Spadina and its dank basement as the rented quarters where, in the fall of 1967, two nationalistic university English graduates in their late 20s named Dennis Lee and Dave Godfrey started what would become one of the three most influential presses in the literary history of Canada, along with McClelland & Stewart and Coach House Press.

Hundreds of books later by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, the press that Jack McClelland predicted would last no more than 18 months still lives on Spadina Avenue. But it won't be celebrating its 40th birthday in a basement. Anansi's home is now a light-filled eighth-floor aerie of blond hardwood and high ceilings far to the south of its original digs.

The environment says it all about the brightened outlook at Anansi. One British publisher recently called it "the red-hot centre of literary publishing in Canada." Owned since 2002 by Toronto businessman and poetry enthusiast Scott Griffin, the company last year reported sales of just under $5-million and now employs a full-time staff of 20. It wasn't so long ago, when Anansi was still part of the now-defunct Stoddart empire, that there were three staffers and annual sales hovered around $400,000.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) named Anansi its publisher of the year after its 2006 triumphs, which included: an Anansi title, Peter Behrens's debut novel The Law of Dreams, winning the 2006 Governor-General's Literary Award for English fiction (with Rawi Hage's De Niro's Game also short-listed) and two books on the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize short list (De Niro's Game and GaƩtan Soucy's The Immaculate Conception). Meanwhile, the company's publisher since 2005, Lynn Henry, took the CBA's "editor-of-the-year" honours.

This week, Lee, now 68, learned his most recent volume of Anansi-published poetry, Yesno: Poems, was on the short list for the 2007 Governor-General's poetry prize.
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Rattling Books would like to thank Anansi for taking us under their wing (Rattling Books are distributed in Canada through House of Anansi Press). We wish them health, wealth and happiness for atleast forty more!