In House: BookThug

BookThug is a Toronto press that has been constantly evolving since it began operating as a micropress back in 1992. At that time the publisher, Jay MillAr, was working as a poetry editor at Coach House Books (learn all about them here) while publishing chapbooks, broadsides, and other limited editions on the side.

One phone call, however, changed all that. In 2004 the International Festival of Authors was putting on a Danish-themed festival and needed to find a Canadian publisher that would take on English translations of the Danish authors participating in the festival. While Coach House passed on the project, MillAr asked if he could take on a book with his BookThug imprint. And thus BookThug’s first “book with a spine” came into being: Pencil of Rays and Spike Mace by Niels Lyngso, translated by Gregory Pardlo (the American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry earlier this year!).

Since officially launching in 2004, BookThug has published almost 175 titles, all of which fulfill their mandate of being innovative and contemporary, whether that’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or drama. Their aim is to publish books that “extend the tradition of, and continue the ‘conversation’ about, experimental literature.” To help provoke this additional engagement and ongoing conversation, BookThug has created a series of “departments” that bring together all of their titles and play with the idea of genres. These departments include: Department of Narrative Studies (fiction), Department of Critical Thought (essays), and the Department of Reissue (important texts that have fallen out of print).

This dedication to experimental literature and pushing boundaries has paid off for both BookThug and the writers they support. Aisha Sasha John published her first and second collections of poetry with BookThug, The Shining Material and THOU, respectively. THOU was a finalist for this year’s Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Ottawa poet Christine McNair published her first book, Conflict, with the press in 2012 and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award, and the ReLit Awards. Most notable is probably Phil Hall’s Killdeer, a collection of poetic essays, which won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award. It was also nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize and received a third place distinction from the Alcuin Society for Excellence in Book Design in Canada.

But it’s not all about the awards. For BookThug it’s very much about community. The press itself is a family affair—day-to-day business is done at the Millar home and Hazel, Jay’s wife, came on board a few years ago as Managing Editor and Publicist (their son even spent “Take Your Kids to Work Day” with them … read all about it here).

In addition to their regular seasonal launches and readings, they also host a monthly reading series out of their home called HIJ House Reading Series. They invite one prose writer and one poet to come read while everyone eats lots of homemade pie. They usually only invite non-BookThug authors as it allows them to not only support other publishers and their authors but gives them a chance to indulge in their own CanLit love—they too love to fangirl (and boy) over their favourite authors!

While Grandma BookThug always says, “Just you wait, one of these days he’ll [Jay] get his foot in the door,” we think BookThug has very firmly carved out a name for themselves in the literary CanLit world. From innovative poetry to quirky fiction, you know you’ll be getting an interesting, thought-provoking read when you pick up a BookThug book. And now it’s easier to spot with a fresh new logo with a punch of colour!