When Hazlitt, the online literary magazine, launched in 2012, it felt like a bold, experimental gambit for what was then Random House of Canada. It was a way for a large, mainstream publisher to take chances on and help develop new and innovative writers across a range of styles and forms—several of whom ended up getting book deals at least in part as a result of that work.
The idea for Strange Light, our new imprint came from wanting to take some of the lessons we’d learned from building Hazlitt into a successful, award-winning literary website and apply them to a different, but related, arena. By design, Hazlitt’s editors have always been free to indulge and explore their passions, no matter how obscure or unlikely, and have wanted to capture the thrill that comes with discovering something that feels brand-new. That’s the main way in which Strange Light has grown out of Hazlitt—out of wanting to give the greatest platform and resources possible to authors who challenge us, whose writing by its nature defies easy categorization, and whose work is shot through with the beauty and horror and shock and delight that’s always drawn us to the most meaningful works of art in our lives.
And that means actively seeking those writers out. Since announcing our initial slate of books and authors—form-blurring fiction by Max Porter, Sara Peters, and Amina Cain, and experimental memoir and nonfiction by Carmen Maria Machado, Anshuman Iddamsetty, and Madhur Anand—we’ve had an extremely heartening response from agents and others in the industry, but we know we can’t wait for those emails and calls alone. We’re constantly drawing inspiration from authors working in unconventional spaces, and taking what can seem like wild chances as the imprint’s identity organically comes into focus.
One way we’re keeping our eyes open is by opening our doors to the rest of the company: we have a standing open meeting for a loose “advisory committee” composed of employees all across Penguin Random House Canada’s various imprints and divisions, where anyone can contribute to the process of trying to bring these books to market, or—and just as important, if not more—tell us about writers and writing we might be missing altogether. From the early days of Hazlitt and on through to Strange Light, our team’s standard for what we publish has ultimately been simple: we’d be mad if anybody did it but us. To our great delight, we’ve got a growing group of people on the same wavelength, dedicated to building a meaningful home for unpredictable, provocative, personal stories—those that enchant even as they explode.
Jordan Ginsberg is the editorial director of Strange Light and editor-in-chief of Hazlitt at Penguin Random House Canada.