Talonbooks: Celebrating 50 years of independent Canadian publishing

Talonbooks celebrates 50 years in 2017

Talonbooks is celebrating 50 years in 2017—and we’ve got a behind-the-scenes look at the operation. Talon has more than 500 titles in print, which have received more than 300 awards, and are the only one of the pioneering “first generation” of Canadian literary publishers of the 1960s to have consistently maintained their success and independence over the past 45 years. In addition to its staples of poetry and drama, Talon has diversified its literary nonfiction list over the last decade to include works on global issues and Canadian concerns and politics.

Check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes tour into the office, warehouse, and archives. Special thanks to Talon staffer Chloë Filson for the tour and narration!

Touring the Office

Talonbooks is currently located in East Vancouver, sharing an office space with another local literary publisher, Anvil Press.

A variety of artworks and awards adorn the walls at Talon. Poetry In Transit bus cards line the hallway and a painting by painter and playwright David MacLean (left). On the right: the City of Vancouver Heritage Award, won for An Enterprising Life by Cyril Leonoff; a portrait of poet Frank O’Hara; and a letterpress broadside by Phyllis Webb.

 

Most of the paintings you see up in the Talon office are original works by bill bissett, one of the godfathers of Canadian poetry and the avant-garde, and one of our poets from the early days who continues to publish with Talon. They are so joyful and really brighten up the office! This photo also showcases the certificate Talon won in 2016: Publisher of the Year in British Columbia!

The main Talon library includes at least one copy of every Talon book that is currently in print – more than 500 titles! It also includes many of the original French-Canadian and French publications that have been translated and published in English by Talon. A smaller production library collects out-of-print books and rare/unusual printings.

Behind the Talon office is the warehouse, which houses all of Talon’s in-print titles (and some out-of-print archival material as well).

Though Talon is distributed by PGC/Raincoast in Canada and Ingram/Perseus in the United States, shipping and handling is managed first at Talon, as well as direct sales. On the right, this is an antique safe and a piece of Vancouver history—nothing is kept inside it, it just looks cool!

“The Pick” is the section of Talon’s warehouse where single copies of each title are shelved (as opposed to full cartons) for easy access when filling single orders.

Meet the Team

Initially established as an editorial collective, Talonbooks has been owned by Kevin Williams and Vicki Williams since 2007. The press was acquired from Karl Siegler and Christy Siegler. Karl joined Talonbooks in January of 1974 when it was jointly owned by David Robinson and Gordon Fidler, and was being run by a staff of four full-time employees with little attention to the financial side.

Now, ten years after acquiring the press, Kevin and Vicki Williams continue Talon’s international reputation of publishing work of the highest literary merit.

Kevin Williams (co-owner and publisher) and Spencer Williams (sales and marketing)

With its bissett paintings, framed awards, reference bookshelves, and view into the warehouse, the editorial office is the place to be—and where you can see Vicki Williams, co-owner and submissions editor, hard at work.

Irene Munter (bookkeeper) and Chloë Filson (production and editorial)

Charles Simard (editor). On the wall behind Charles are just three of Talon’s Governor General’s Literary Awards from over the years—Talonbooks has been nominated for more than fifty and have won more than fifteen! These three are for Unity (1918) by Kevin Kerr, Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring, and Girl in the Goldfish Bowl by Morris Panych.

We’d be much remiss if we didn’t show you the four-legged members of Talonbooks. Here is Mocha, a Nova Scotia Duck Toller and Talon’s long-time office dog.

Rya the Schnoodle (a cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle), napping and camouflaged among other black office furniture.

Other team members not pictured are Tamara Lee (editor) and Les Smith (art director and designer).

Into the Archives

Talon was first established as a poetry magazine with an editorial collective led by David Robinson and based at Magee High School in Vancouver in 1963, which moved to UBC in 1965. By 1967, the magazine had published so many young writers, Talon decided to become a book publisher for its authors, beginning with poetry, including the first books of Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Bowering (Sticks & Stones), and Ken Belford’s Post Electric Cave Man respectively.

A selection of notable titles among Talon’s classics and greatest hits include: The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month (and has just been reprinted for the 30th time!); The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay and translated by Sheila Fischman (which was a Canada Reads finalist in 2009); Drew Hayden Taylor’s Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth (which is currently on stage at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre)

 

 

The Talon archives include many seasonal and annual catalogues and illustrate the diverse interests of Talon’s editors and owners. For example, Peter Hay, who joined the press in 1969, had a drama background and Talon began to diversify into drama with Beverley Simons’ Crabdance, George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, and James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark. And Mary Schendlinger, who worked at Talon from 1981–88, wanted to see more feminist representation in the list. These editorial interests helped to create a strong backlist and provide a direction for the frontlist.

In the early 1980s, the press experimented with publishing highly successful commercial titles. However, Talon found that these not only took too much time away from new literary work and was also risky in terms of hitting a successful benchmark. For these reasons, the press returned to its original, exclusively literary mandate in 1985.

Early Talon catalogues from the mid-1970s were printed on letterpress machines by hand. Talon expanded into publishing fiction with Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart and Audrey Thomas’ Songs My Mother Taught Me in 1973; into Québec literature in translation with Robert Gurik’s The Trial of Jean Baptiste M. and Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs in 1975; and into non-fiction with the collected works of ethnographer Charles Hill-Tout, The Salish People, Volumes I–IV, in 1979.

This 1984 catalogue advertises (among other things) the first English edition of Les Belles-Soeurs, Michel Tremblay’s now canonical play, translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco.

These three catalogues, with the most recent on the bottom left, highlight notable anniversaries of Talonbooks.

Talon’s Fall 2017 frontlist poetry and fiction titles, and a few other recent titles are displayed at the front of the office. Pictured here (L–R, top to bottom): Prison Industrial Complex Explodes by Mercedes Eng (poetry); Reveries of a Solitary Biker by Catriona Strang (poetry); Wayside Sang by Cecily Nicholson (poetry); Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead (poetry); Anima by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Linda Gaboriau (fiction); Zora, A Cruel Tale by Philippe Arseneault, translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel (fiction); A Taste of Empire by Jovanni Sy (drama); In Search of New Babylon by Dominique Scali, translated by W. Donald Wilson (fiction); A Crossing of Hearts by Michel Tremblay, translated by Sheila Fischman (fiction); From Oral to Written by Tomson Highway (non-fiction); An Honest Woman by Jónína Kirton (poetry); and Messenger by Wendy Lill (drama).

Recent Talon bestsellers include: Injun by Jordan Abel (which this year won the Griffin Poetry Prize, the largest poetry prize in Canada); They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars (a BC Bestseller for 44 weeks in 2013 and 2014, and a winner of and finalist for various awards); and Peacock Blue and Scree, volumes of collected poems by Phyllis Webb and Fred Wah, respectively (and look for Daphne Marlatt’s Intertidal, out in November 2017!)

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