There was a time when there were few English-language publishers here in Québec,” says Linda Leith, president of the Association of English-language Publishers of Québec (Association des éditeurs de langue anglaise du Québec, known by its French initials, AELAQ). “And those few focused mainly or entirely on poetry and nonfiction. For many years, even decades, none were regularly publishing fiction by Québec writers. With English-Canadian publishers elsewhere largely uninterested in Québec writers—and especially uninterested in Québec writers working in English—many fine writers were unable to get their work published.”
But, Leith says, that time is over. “There are numerous publishers now working here in English, stars who have emerged over the past twenty years as the Anglo literary scene has enjoyed a tremendous revival. What remains of that difficult time is that writers here learned to go their own way. That’s what continues to make the writing coming out of Québec so original and exciting.”
AELAQ supports Québec’s English-language publishing industry—very much a minority in the province—through advocacy, professional development, and marketing initiatives. Such initiatives include organizing the eclectic Holiday Pop-up Book Fair, which will run for the fourth time this fall, and publishing the Montreal Review of Books, a print book review and blog that covers English-language books published, written, translated, and/or illustrated in Québec.
The Montreal Review of Books celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “People really look to us for coverage, and authors and publishers count on us to get the word out about their books,” says executive director Anna Leventhal. This is true especially “in a climate where newspapers across the country are imperiled and those that are left have had their book sections cut or shrunk to almost nothing. There aren’t a lot of places left to find reviews of books by emerging writers or by writers with venerable careers who publish with small presses.”
“We act as a collective voice for our membership,” Leventhal says. “Our members range from internationally recognized scholarly presses and small innovative literary presses to children’s publishers and publishers of language instruction books and travel guides. Québec makes world-class books, and we aim to bring them to the world, but we also have a local focus—we want to see the library on the corner celebrating our publications as much as we want to see them covered in the New York Times.”
Membership has grown significantly in recent years, which, Leventhal says, “speaks to the strength and resilience of English-language publishers in this province.” This is no surprise given the general feeling that English-language publishing, largely focused in Montréal, has become something of a growth industry. These are good times for local authors and publishers, and this is reflected in the popularity of the Holiday Pop-up Book Fair.
“One of our biggest recent accomplishments, and one of the most exciting events in our calendar, is the fair,” Leventhal says. “A dozen of our members usually table, and writers published outside the province participate as well. There are readings, a wine-and-cheese gathering, and themed events. The fair usually attracts upward of 600 visitors. It’s quite thrilling to see our members’ works all in one place and to see the breadth and depth of the literary scene represented.” This year’s Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair will be held on November 24 and 25 in the atrium of the Webster Library at Concordia University in Montréal.