Louise Dennys, a publishing titan in Canada and a respected figure internationally, is stepping down as executive publisher and executive vice-president with Penguin Random House Canada. She had been with the country’s largest publisher since 1991, when Sonny Mehta, the venerable publisher of Alfred A. Knopf, invited her to team up to create Knopf in Canada as an editorially independent house within what was then Random House of Canada.
She assumes the title of publisher emerita with the company. In her new role, Dennys will serve as an “ambassador and advocate” for the publishing giant and its authors, according to a media release.
The Oxford-educated Dennys moved to Canada from London in 1972 to be with Canadian filmmaker Rick Young, her lifelong partner. “We’re here forever now, because there’s so much to open up for Canadian writers,” she told Maclean’s in 1981.
At 25, she launched her own publishing house and learned on the fly how to typeset, market and sell books from a dusty closet in the back of the Anson-Cartwright Antiquarian Bookshop. Dennys then went into partnership, as publisher, with the small independent Lester & Orpen. With Malcolm Lester, she built up Lester & Orpen Dennys, releasing such bestsellers as The Illustrated History of Canada while editorially nurturing the careers of many award winners.
Dennys has long been associated with Salman Rushdie, whose writing she has published and edited for more than 30 years. In 2013, the novelist presented her with the Ivy Award, given annually in recognition to significant contributions to Canadian publishing. Rushdie said Dennys was not only his “best editor,” but “a woman of immense integrity and courage, who always steps into the fray when she knows it to be necessary.”
Indeed, she had stepped into the fray in 1992. As president of PEN Canada, which campaigns for freedom of expression, she led the effort to secretly bring Rushdie to Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre after the death sentence imposed on him by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The event, a writers’ benefit, helped instigate the Canadian government’s support of Rushdie’s case before the United Nations.
Under Dennys’s leadership, Knopf Canada and Vintage Canada became home to such writers such as Naomi Klein, Karen Armstrong, Gabor Maté, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mordecai Richler, John Vaillant, Karl Ove Knausgaard, David Mitchell, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Miriam Toews, Roddy Doyle, Oliver Sacks, Jhumpa Lahiri and Eden Robinson. For many years she has also collaborated with McClelland & Stewart, working closely with Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.
Dennys was invested as member of the Order of Canada in 2006 as a “passionate promoter of Canadian writers.”
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