Giller prize winner Johanna Skibsrud (middle), author of 'The Sentimentalists', receives a hug from her sister Kristin Skipsrud Ross (R) and friend Rebecca Silver Slayter (behind) during Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, November 9, 2010. (National Post photo.)
Very good news, everyone: The Giller Prize, Canada’s top literary prize, has just been awarded to Johanna Skribsrud for her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, published by Gaspereau Press — the very press who designs and prints the North American issues of Parenthesis. The prize was announced in Toronto late on November 9th, 2010.
In the weeks since the Giller finalists were announced, the Canadian literary establishment has found it difficult to make out what Gaspereau Press — a hybrid trade and fine press — is really all about.
The Globe and Mail ran this story about Gaspereau’s commitment to making The Sentimentalists their way: letterpress jackets, guts printed on their ‘house’ paper (Rolland’s Zephyr Antique Laid), sewn bindings, etc. — in spite of a large trade publisher’s offer to mass-produce more copies for them. In this article, Gaspereau’s co-publisher Andrew Steeves explains the philosophical underpinnings of his approach to making books in this way, and eloquently defends his decision not to mass produce — even in light of the spike in demand for copies of this book that he could not immediately meet.
Andrew Steeves at Gaspereau Press. (Globe and Mail photo.)
Hours before the Giller was awarded, The National Post described the “clash of cultures” that takes place when a small literary press is nominated for a prize dominated by the big publishing houses:
“This [approach to publishing] may seem like willful eccentricity on the part of Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield, Gaspereau’s co-publishers. It’s actually something much more interesting: a commitment to a thoughtful, rigorous, refined mode of publishing. While publishing is usually discussed as a business, or an industry, all of the finest small press publishers practice it as an art form. The books that they choose to publish aren’t chosen to fill out a season with a handful of products that stand a reasonable chance of selling. Their lists are cultural projects, embodying a few individuals’ ideas of what literature can be. Biblioasis’ loose collective of editors, all of them excellent writers and notorious contrarians, are heterogeneous in their tastes but share a commitment to rabble-rousing and literary excellence. Gaspereau, and the handful of other companies that operate in a similar way, take this conceit to its logical extreme: both the process through which their books are made, and the physical objects that result, are inextricable from their editorial objectives.”
And that is why the Fine Press Book Association hires Gasperau to design and print the North American issues of Parenthesis year after year!
Now it’s time for some video. Here’s Andrew Steeves printing letterpress jackets for The Sentimentalists late into the night.
And here’s the book blocks being sewn on a Sulby binder.
— Paul Razzell