The Department of English will welcome Metonymy Press as this year’s Richler Writer-in-Residence. Co-founded by Ashley Fortier and Oliver Fugler in 2014, Metonymy Press is based in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal), unceded Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory and publishes literary fiction and nonfiction by emerging writers in the hope of reducing barriers to publishing for authors whose perspectives are underrepresented.
“We are thrilled to welcome press co-founders Ashley Fortier and Oliver Fugler, along with Metonymy writers and editors,” says Professor Erin Hurley, Chair of the Department of English. “The events curated by Professor Alanna Thain promise rich and lively discussions about small-press publishing, YA literature, translation and more.”
Metonymy Press is the first collective and the first publishing house to take up the Richler Writer-in-Residence. Their editors and writers will also be holding office hours during the semester, which will allow them to mentor and advise students on their own creative works.
“This residency gives the McGill community a chance to be in conversation with writers and editors who see their work as a way of building and sustaining community, through publishing books that draw you in and open up the world,” says Professor Alanna Thain.
Professor Thain, who oversees the Visiting Speaker program for the Department of English, has been working closely with Metonymy Press to curate a varied list of events that will surely speak to McGill students’ interest and desire for more creative practice as part of their university experience.
Metonymy Press was born from Fortier and Fugler’s mutual desire to see more queer and trans literature from writers within the communities they belong to. Indeed, the press has committed itself to showcasing a variety of literary works that transgress boundaries and are looking forward to the opportunity of sharing their work and the press’s mission statement with the wider McGill community.
“We’d been organizing with the annual queer book fair in the city, Queer Between the Covers, and recognizing a gap in what publishing options were available to new and emerging authors,” say Fortier and Fugler. “We met when we were in grade nine at an arts school in Ottawa and have been writing and editing alongside one another ever since.”
“Across the arts today we are seeing all kinds of experiments in more inclusive practices,” says Professor Thain. “Representation goes well beyond what's on the page and needs to be supported at every level of the creative and pragmatic process in literature.”
“Metonymy Press is a showcase for the brilliance and beauty of queer and trans voices,” she adds. “They have published some of the most exciting and experimental works of English language fiction in Canada in recent years.”
The Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence Program, housed within the Faculty of Arts’ Department of English, aims to nurture new talent by providing valuable insight into the creative process and offers students an enriching opportunity to study practical and theoretical approaches to writing.
“The Richler residency is a really exciting chance to expand the audiences for a number of our authors, share the experience we’ve had as small publishers with students at McGill, and offer members of the Metonymy community a dedicated space to work on new writing projects,” Fortier and Fugler say. “By selecting the press as opposed to one author, it means the Department of English is facilitating support for a broad range of authors, which we think is an innovative and thoughtful choice.”
Metonymy Press’s first event of the year was a roundtable discussion on small press publishing in Canada, featuring editors from small publishing houses such as House House Press, B&D Press and Metatron Press.
Their next event, on January 24, will be a conversation on editorial relationships between two of their authors, H. Felix Chau Bradley and Markus Harwood-Jones. Felix is currently editing Markus’s forthcoming YA novel, The Haunting Years of Adrian Yates.
In anticipation of next week’s event, Chau Bradley tells us they are looking forward to an engaging discussion on productive and supportive editor-author relationships and introducing folks to The Haunting Years of Adrian Yates.
“Markus is a relatively new voice on the queet and trans lit scene, so I’m excited for people to simply read his work,” says Chau Bradley. “ [his] way of writing trans characters [is] refreshing… we follow two trans teens going about their lives with hopes and fears and anxieties that are not solely about transness.”
A full list of events can be accessed here.
We spoke to Fortier and Fugler about their journey in establishing a small, queer press, their upcoming events at McGill and a forthcoming anthology of queer and trans Arab and Arabophone writers.
What dialogues are you hoping to address about Canadian publishing today, and more specifically, independent publishing, during your residency?
The small press panel on the 18th will contribute to an interesting dialogue about what it means to operate on the scale that we do, that is a small small press, and both the advantages and challenges that come along with that. We are excited to be inviting other publishers from Montreal who’ve built their presses from the ground up, based in community and a commitment to mandates that prioritize things beyond just selling books. It will be a great opportunity to give McGill students and faculty a window into how to move from an idea to a passion project to a successful publishing house.
We’re excited about the other conversations that we expect to come out of the public events scheduled as part of the residency, from the intricacies of a supportive relationship between editor and writer, to the nuanced considerations of translating a book like The Rage Letters by Valérie Bah, to the process of putting together an international queer and trans Arab anthology (with Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch and Samia Marshy). By opening the residency up to so many different writers, the English department is creating space for important discussions related to writing craft and the publishing industry in so-called Canada.
What responsibility do editors and publishers have in bringing stories to our attention?
Through committing to this project, we’ve made it our mandate to curate and promote and champion stories we believe in. As a small press we aim to affirm life and reframe power (as one of our authors so succinctly put it). So not only do we want to bring these stories to the public's attention, but we want to disrupt the status quo in doing so. Being able to participate in those critical conversations is an exciting and daunting responsibility.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in establishing a LGBTQIA2S+ press?
Being a queer press, which many would consider niche, is definitely community-based and where we want to be. But it is a challenge inasmuch as there haven't been a lot of contemporary models, and although we do our best to mitigate it, our titles and authors are subject to the spectrum of discrimination from misunderstandings and pigeonholing to violence at events. One practical example of an issue we’ve run up against as a press is we didn’t have a business bank account for years because banks didn’t recognize Oliver’s identity, which is often a problem trans people face.
The ongoing major challenge for us is access to grant funding: starting with being able to produce enough books to be eligible for grants without first having access to those grants. And being able to produce new titles at a rate where we’re deemed big enough to warrant core funding, while wanting to a) maintain the integrity of our work and dedication to our authors and other collaborators, and b) carry on with other freelance work in order to pay the bills while growing the press to a point where we can actually pay ourselves a living wage.
Metonymy Press will be publishing a Queer and Trans Arab and Arabophone anthology- what behind-the-scenes work is required to bring this type of project to fruition? What will McGill students and faculty learn about the process of this project?
Eli and Samia are editing this collection and it’s also our very first anthology as a press! We are learning as we go along (with support from other presses who are helping guide us).
There is so much behind-the-scenes work involved, from soliciting submissions, to editing and translating pieces, to even just choosing a title that will resonate across multiple Arab and Arabophone communities. McGill faculty and students will get to hear from the editors, and likely one of the contributors as well, about what it means to put together a collection like this that is rooted in literary craft and experimentation rather than a focus on works that engage with identity in a straightforward or didactic way.
They’ll also hear about the choices the editors made about using the term “Arab” as a political identity that disrupts the ideas of nationalism, illegal settlements, violent borders, and other colonial and racist tactics and also includes anyone from Arabophone communities, including those who deny Arab culture forced upon them through Arab colonialism.
The panel is scheduled for the end of March, at which point the editorial process will be much further along (as they are currently only in the first round of edits), so no doubt there is plenty more that they’ll have to share that we can’t even predict at this stage!
Metonymy Press will be holding a roundtable discussion with the Département des littératures de langue française, de traduction et de creation, on translation. Being a predominantly English-language press in a bilingual city, why was it important for you to publish translated works? What particular challenges do publishers face when working with translated texts?
This is actually our very first translation. But we do hope that it becomes a trend. As an English-language publisher in Montreal, we don’t always get the opportunity to connect with Francophone publishers, and we’re really excited to be putting out Valérie Bah’s book, originally published by Les Martiales / Remue-ménage as Les Enragé.es, and under the English title of The Rage Letters (translated by Kama La Mackerel). We’re thrilled to be able to bring this book to new audiences, certainly within Montreal but especially to the ROC and within the US as well. Val’s book, which is a series of interconnected stories featuring queer Black Montrealers, is one that touches on a number of resonant themes for readers all over: the desire and need for rest under capitalism, the possibilities fueled by anger and boredom — ultimately, freedom and resistance. We know there are other French titles out there that could be a similarly good fit for Metonymy, and we’re excited to learn about them.
Tell us about a book published by your press that you are excited to share with the McGill community.
We are about to publish Markus Harwood-Jones’s queer and trans ghost love story, a young adult novel called The Haunting of Adrian Yates. Markus is a Toronto-based author who will be visiting this month as part of the residency to give a talk with Felix, who edited his book.
Featuring a young trans boy living in a downtown apartment block, the book puts a spin on the classic gothic setting of a crumbling rural estate. This novel grapples with the transformation of urban landscapes, the impacts of poverty, and the steady creep of gentrification. Tackling big questions around conflict, consent, and accountability, this is a story of an intimate haunting, a ghost who is given permission to possess. Somewhat ironically, The Haunting of Adrian Yates does not shy away from the presence of sad, dead queer kids. Instead, this novel sits with them and listens carefully.
What’s next for Metonymy Press?
Apart from the three books we’ve mentioned so far, we’ll also hopefully be re-issuing the classic 1980s feminist tarot deck Thea’s Tarot that is out of print but inspired our first ever book, She Is Sitting in the Night, by Oliver. We’re also working with our acquisitions committee to map out the catalogue beyond spring 2024, and we have some very exciting things on the horizon, but none that are public quite yet.
For more information or to set up an appointment with the Richler artists, please contact publish [at] metonymypress.com
About the Mordechai Richler Writer-in-Residence
The Mordechai Richler Writer-in-Residence program offers a unique opportunity to welcome professional writers into the intellectual and creative life of the Department of English. If this award honours the legacy of Mordechai Richler, a writer strongly associated with his home-town of Montreal, it also highlights the ongoing history of creative writing across forms and genres that has characterized the Department’s activities for more than a century. For example, English is the current home of two research-creation projects: Poetry Matters – which fosters enhanced culture for poetry within and beyond the Department through workshops, readings, and collaborative events -- and Chez Nous, recurrent series of staged readings of plays written in English by Quebec playwrights.