Those immersed in Montreal’s literary scene know there’s more to it than the recognizable heavy hitters: Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen and Michel Tremblay. But on the outside, it seemed at times like all the action (at least in Anglo Canada) was happening elsewhere. Then came Heather O’Neill, Madeleine Thien, Jacob Wren, Rawi Hage, Kim Thúy, Éric Dupont and Paige Cooper, and 2018 became the Year of the Montreal Anglo Renaissance. Several of the city’s authors were either longlisted or shortlisted for a Governor-General’s Award or the Giller. Equally impressive was the emergence of new writers. With its unique bilingual culture, Montreal’s vibrant literary scene can often slip under the radar for readers in Canada’s other solitude. Here’s a primer on the writers, publishers, reviews and bookstores you should check out to help bolster your know-how of Montreal’s literary community.
Rawi Hage – The 2006 novel De Niro’s Game established him as one of Montreal’s rising stars. Last year’s Beirut Hellfire Society was longlisted for the Giller, and shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor-General’s Award for English-language fiction.
Kim Thúy – Her debut novel won the 2010 Governor General’s Prize for French-language fiction. Last year, her novel Vi (published in French in 2016) was translated to English and was longlisted for the Giller.
Éric Dupont – Songs for the Cold Heart published by Quebec Fiction (an indie publisher committed to promoting translated work) was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Award for Translation and the Giller Prize.
Paige Cooper’s short story collection, Zolitude published by Windsor, Ont.-based publisher Biblioasis was longlisted for the Giller and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction.
Sina Queyras is a local poet and author of My Ariel published by Coach House Books. It won the AM Klein award for poetry.
Steve Anwyll’s newest novel Welfare caught the attention of New York indie publisher Tyrant Books and has been generating buzz south of the border.
Domenica Martinello has returned to Montreal after receiving an MFA in poetry from the notable Iowa Writers workshop. This year, Coach House will publish her collection All Day I Dream About Sirens.
Julie Doucet Her decade long work, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet, has been released by Drawn and Quarterly in a box set.
Drawn and Quarterly was founded in 1989 and continues to publish some of the city’s fabled cartoonists from its headquarters within the Mile End neighbourhood. In 2018, the publisher garnered international attention with Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction – the first time a graphic novel had ever been nominated.
Metatron Press was founded in 2014 by Ashley Opheim. It features poetry and short fiction, especially with the intent of promoting marginalized writers. In the fall, it published Natalia Hero’s Hum, an allegory on sexual assault that feels incredibly timely in today’s climate. Metatron also runs an annual online magazine – ÄLPHÄ –which features a guest editor each issue and holds an annual writing contest, The Metatron Prize for Rising Authors.
Anteism prints monographs, artist books and exhibition catalogues. In 2016, it published an art book companion to the Solange Knowles album A Seat at the Table, and this year it will be featuring releases from musician and artist Devendra Banhart, as well as artist Toyin Ojih Odutola. In addition to its publishing house, Anteism hosts a printing and binding studio in its Mile End offices called BookArt.
TWO DIGITAL PLAYERS
Paige Cooper is the senior fiction editor for Cosmonauts Avenue, an online literary journal founded in 2015 by Concordia University creative writing alumni. Its mandate is to promote marginalized voices, and it has accumulated a set of dazzling literary stars as judges for its prizes, including Ottessa Moshfegh, Danez Smith, Roxane Gay, Ocean Vuong, Tommy Pico and Eileen Myles.
SSENSE is an online fashion platform whose deputy editor is Durga Chew-Bose, the author of Too Much and Not the Mood. The platform manages to elevate style journalism to a literary art form, and Chew-Bose has undeniably brought her precise talent as an essayist and film critic to the editorial.
The iconic literary institution Librairie Drawn and Quarterly – a sister company of the graphic novel publishing house – is one of Montreal’s most beloved independent bookstores and is home to many of the city’s literary events. In 2018, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly opened a secondary location across the street, La Petite Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, which caters to children’s and young adult literature, and whose expanded space serves as the host for most Librairie Drawn and Quarterly events.
Librairie St-Henri just opened its doors for its eponymous neighbourhood readers not located in the Mile End. Librairie Racine celebrates one year as an independent bookstore which promotes work by people of colour for people of colour.
And the city’s unique bilingualism offers a wealth of beautiful work for translators and francophone publishing houses. Drawn and Quarterly, for example, is in the company of many francophone graphic novel publishing peers: Éditions Pow Wow and La Pastèque continue to serve the local graphic novel community as well. In fact, La Pastèque recently opened doors to a new store and workshop location in the heart of Mile End. Francophone publishers such as Les Éditions de l'Écrou offer a similar mandate as Metatron, with the intent of promoting alternative literature, as well as Triptyque Publishing, which was the first to translate Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Quebec Fiction is up to the task of its translation work, intent on promoting overlooked talent divided by language barriers.
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