On Saturday, representatives from several Canadian small presses and publishers gathered at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library to showcase their work at the library’s first-ever Small Press Fair. The event was unusual in that the focus wasn’t entirely on the writing: equally important was the artistic quality of the printed objects themselves, from the beautifully bound to the exquisitely illustrated.
While fans of the printed word frequently bemoan the problems that have beset Canadian publishing, this exhibit demonstrated that Canadian small presses are still, in many cases, thriving. The objects on display included items from the Thomas Fisher library’s own collection. Some of the items were tiny, exquisite pieces of ephemera, and others— such as a copy of Double Persephone, Margaret Atwood’s first chapbook—were more substantial. Also part of the exhibit was a gorgeous large-format Gaspereau Press edition of Execution Poems, by George Elliott Clarke, Toronto’s current poet laureate.
“All through the exhibit, people were coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh, I wish I could touch the books,’” says John Shoesmith, librarian and curator of “A Death Greatly Exaggerated.” The books on display were all extremely fragile, and so they were locked behind heavy glass and put under low lights to preserve them. Shoesmith wanted to give people a way to touch the books. That impulse led to the Small Press Fair.
Vendors included literary publishers like BookThug and Coach House Books, both of which publish large commercial print runs of Canadian literature while keeping a keen eye on design, illustration, paper stock, and font choice. Indie presses like above/ground press and Chaudiere Books were able to show off their DIY approach to literary ephemera by presenting their photocopied pamphlets and chapbooks. Pedlar Press, best known for its carefully chosen poetry selection, was able to showcase its lovely papercraft products, including cards and buntings. Many forms of book art were on display as well, from paper marbling, to woodcuts, to lithography, with examples from many exhibitors, like Greyweathers Press and Aliquando Books. At the Massey College Print Shop’s table, posters and pamphlets showcased the beauty of font, each item hand-pressed from Massey’s extensive collection of lead and wood type.
While the curated exhibit, kept under glass, displayed items that are immediately recognizable as Canadian literary treasures, the Small Press Fair clearly demonstrated that objects that are just as lovely and rare (and as well written) are still being produced in Canada.