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50 Years of Publishing Very Good Books

50 Years of Publishing Very Good Books

House of Anansi Press was founded in 1967 by two young men who were both graduates of the University of Toronto. David Godfrey and Dennis Lee were in their late twenties. Godfrey had been away from Canada for a while, having done graduate degrees in the U.S., and then taught in Ghana for two years before returning home. He had been writing stories, which were being published in Canadian literary journals. He was invited to be a part of the annual anthology The Best American Stories but declined the offer unless the publisher agreed to change the title to The Best American and Canadian Stories. The publisher refused.

At U of T Godfrey was distressed to find that Canadian literature was taught as the end-of-term adjunct to the American literature course. And when trawling the shelves of the U of T bookstore, he realized that Canadians had authored less than 2 percent of books on those shelves. At the time, U.K. branch plant publishers dominated the market; the only all-Canadian house of any size was McClelland & Stewart, which acted as the Canadian distribution partner for Little Brown & Company out of Boston.

Godfrey shared his distress with his pal Dennis Lee, who was then teaching at Victoria College. Lee was also writing poetry. He showed his poems to Godfrey, who declared upon reading them that they needed to be published but that no publisher in town would take on this avant-garde work! And so in the spirit of youthful enthusiasm fuelled by the nationalism of the day — remember, 1967 was the 100th anniversary of Confederation! — they founded their own publishing house. It was a place where they could publish their work and the work of their friends. David and Dennis called this new enterprise The House of Anansi Press.

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