(The Turret Bell, 2014)
There is more to a books than just authors. Vital to any literary scene are the publishers, writer’s groups, periodicals, and the role of self-publishing in the modern marketplace. As with any populated area that has a strong cultural industry, Prince Edward Island has its own book-related entrepreneurs, publishing houses, and literary zines.
PEI Publishers and Resources
This entry is especially relevant due to recent news regarding the cutting of a government grant for publishers in PEI, which comes after years of related controversy.
The Acorn Press – located in Charlottetown, PEI – was founded in 1994 by editor, poet, and publisher Laurie Brinklow (it has since changed hands to a new owner in 2010.) It has since become the leading publisher of Island books. Acorn Press has the goal and mandate of publishing work by Islanders and for Islanders. This attitude applies not only to the writers, but artists as well; Acorn Press employs PEI visual artists for book covers and children’s books illustrations.
Since Acorn’s first book back in 1994 – An Island Christmas Reader by David Weale – Acorn has published over fifty titles, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. Acorn’s stable of authors includes Poets Laureate John Smith, Frank Ledwell, and Hugh MacDonald. It has a bit of a relaxed schedule for releasing books compared to some other publishers in the Maritime region, but it shows no signs of slowing down.
Island Studies Press
Island Studies Press is the publishing arm of the Institute of Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island. While Acorn Press published predominantly fiction, this is the premiere publisher of non-fiction in PEI, largely academic in nature. While the books are rigorously peer-reviewed, they are written for a popular audience and intended for the general marketplace.
Island Studies Press also produces research reports for the Institute of Island Studies, which focuses on the culture, environment and economy of small islands. The Institute of Island Studies is a research, education, and public policy institute based at the University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada.
Like the Acorn Press, Island Studies Press releases a limited amount of work throughout the year and updates the news section sparingly, but this is due to the specialized area of expertise and commitment to accuracy in the work.
There’s been a lot of talk on this blog about fiction, but we’ve never really mentioned poetry. If you’re talking poetry in PEI, sooner or later you’re going to come to the topic of the Poet Laureate: a program started by the government of PEI in 2002 for the purposes of electing a poet of stature to represent PEI, assist PEI poets, and be a general spokesperson for the entire PEI poetry scene, both locally and abroad. The first Poet Laureate was St Peters Bay native Frank Ledwell. Poet Laureates only hold the position for a few years, with the list of representatives including Diane Hicks Morrow , Hugh MacDonald, and David Helwig.
A large number of poetry from and relating to PEI is funneled through a website run by the Poet Laureate, Poetry PEI. This really is your best place to start if you’re looking to get into the PEI poetry scene, especially since it includes podcasts, event listings, and important poems from the history of PEI.
PEI Independent Publishing Scene
Island writers are following a much larger trend when it comes to self-publishing. With the limited amount of literary agents in Canada that accept unsolicited manuscripts, people across the country have been turning to self-publishing and independent zines. Small publishing houses can accomplish this for independent writers, or people can turn to sites like LuLu.com for a print-on-demand option. The more technologically-oriented authors master programs like Adobe InDesign.
In a recent article by the CBC, Laurie Brinklow points out how this growing trend is uniquely affecting PEI, and how it’s set up to accommodate independent authors:
“Laurie Brinklow of Charlottetown’s Acorn Press said while it is getting easier to self-publish, it is getting harder to find a publisher willing to take on new authors, partly due to funding restrictions. Brinklow said the Canada Council for the Arts, which funds publishers like Acorn Press, is looking for very specific content.[…] As in any business, marketing is key to success. Finding a space on bookstore shelves is not a challenge in Charlottetown — two large stores dedicate space to local offerings — but selling means doing more than just making the book available.”
Movements like this always intersect with community groups and other organizations, like the Prince Edward Island Writers’ Guild. Founded in 1989 by a group of writers from different literary programs, it is an organization dedicated to promoting the growth and quality of literary arts on PEI, designed to create a formal intersection for discussion and action, and to speak periodically as one voice for the Island’s literary community.
These days, the “next big thing” is might come from a renowned publisher that has been at it for decades, or it can be from someone selling books out of the trunk of their car. As long as they have the support from retailers and the curiosity of the people, movements like self-publishing are bound to grow.