Interview with Jeremy Luke Hill, Publisher
How did Gordon Hill Press start?
Gordon Hill Press started because Shane Neilson showed up unannounced at my house one morning, coffees in hand, and convinced me that we should make an offer to purchase The Porcupine’s Quill from Tim and Elke Inkster. The idea was that Shane would take care of the editorial duties, and that I would look after the publishing aspects of the business. So we put together an offer and started making preparations – lawyers and accountants and all that fun stuff.
Unfortunately, we were never able to come to an agreement on purchasing The Porcupine’s Quill, but we had already done all this preparatory work, so we decided to put that work toward starting an entirely new venture, which became Gordon Hill Press. The option of starting a press from scratch was probably the more challenging one in some ways, especially in that we didn’t yet qualify for government support, but it also allowed us a little more freedom to shape the focus and purpose of the press in ways that we wanted, which has turned out for the best I think.
And we were fortunate to have support in getting started from other publishers and organizations in the industry. Noelle Allen from Wolsak & Wynn, Kitty Lewis from Brick Books (now retired), David Carron from ECW, Jack Illingworth from the Ontario Arts Council, Albert Tan from Ontario Creates, and the people at the Literary Press Group (even though we weren’t yet members), were all very supportive in different ways. Noelle was particularly gracious, allowing us to have our book distribution agented through Wolsak & Wynn, which was a real help.
Tell us a bit about Gordon Hill Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Gordon Hill Press publishes mostly poetry, but also some literary criticism and some stylistically innovative fiction. This focus comes not only from Shane’s background as a widely published and recognized poet and critic, but also from my own literary interests, and our tastes overlap more frequently than not. The actual editorial decisions are made by Shane, but I play a game where I guess which manuscripts he’ll take, and I’m not often wrong. We both want to publish writing that is exemplary as writing.
We strive to include a wide diversity of writers and writing, but we have a particular emphasis on publishing writers living with disability. Shane identifies as disabled, and this focus on disability writing comes out of his ongoing work on behalf of disabled writers in Canada, from editing the Dis/Ability Series at Frog Hollow Press, to editing books on disability poetics, to founding the AbleHamilton poetry festival. It also ties into the community publishing work that I was doing in Guelph, where clients often sought my writing and publishing services because disability prevented them from working through more traditional channels.
Part of Gordon Hill Press’ identity is also tied into our location and community here in Guelph, Ontario. Despite being a city with 135,000 people, a university, and a thriving micro-press community, Guelph has never had a trade publisher or a University Press or any other traditional publisher outside of an office for academic publisher Broadview Press. As a lifelong Guelphite who has been involved in the city’s literary community for my whole life, it’s important to me that Gordon Hill Press also function to connect Guelph with the wider world of Canadian Literature.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
We have three current titles, out just this fall –
- Lily Wang’s Saturn Peach – A collection of poetry that is part heartbreak and part wise witness, chronicling the strangeness of a technologized world.
- M. Travis Lane’s Keeping Count – The 18th collection from one of Canada’s most respected poets.
- Kim Davids Mandar’s In|Appropriate – A collection of interviews with Canadian authors, exploring questions of difference, identity, and appropriation.
We also have four titles coming out this coming spring –
- Roxanna Bennett’s The Untranslatable I – Roxanna’s last book with us won the 2020 Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the 2020 Raymond Souster Award. Her new book further explores queer/disabled experience through formally innovative and profoundly beautiful poetry.
- Khashayar Mohammadi’s Me, You, Then Snow – Queer punk pubs, porn, philosophy, and cinema are dissected and refracted with exquisite tenderness in the coldly brilliant fire of Kashayar’s poetry. He is an exciting young talent with a provocative yet vulnerable voice.
- Concetta Principe’s Stars Need Counting – A collection of essays and meditations on suicide that explore the subject close enough to scrape shame off the act. These are disquieting but ultimately healing essays, a real contribution to thinking about death and dying.
- A.F. Mortiz’s The Poet’s Garden – A passionate denunciation of injustice, especially as seen in the violent injustice directed to the African diaspora in North America. Comprised of a long poem, “The Garden in the Midst”, and an in-depth essay, “The Poet’s Garden.”
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
Small press publishing is exciting to me because it allows for specific editorial emphasis in a way that’s impossible for larger presses. It’s easier to focus on the books and the authors that you love and put your energy into them. And if you’re only publishing three or four books a season, as we are, it also lets you choose only the books that you think are the very best, allowing you to curate a catalogue that you can be really proud of and to develop relationships with your authors that can be truly meaningful. I love it. If the economics were sustainable, I’d have no complaints at all.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Gordon Hill Press?
Like most small publishers we survive through a combination of 1) book sales on the fringes of big trade publishers and monolithic online sales platforms, 2) government grants, and 3) tight belts.
I’m not a proponent of charging fees for readings and launches and so forth, nor for raising book prices, nor for any other attempt to increase costs for book buyers. This isn’t because I think books aren’t actually worth more than what we sell them for, or that a reading isn’t actually worth an admission cost. It’s simply because I don’t think the market will bear it, and I don’t want to put up any further barriers to independent books, which are already fighting a losing battle with best-seller culture.
I am (in an ideal world), a strong proponent for government support for small press publication, and I would love to see programs that do more than just fund writers and publishers (though these are necessary too). I’d also like programs that support and reward readers and institutions for purchasing small press books. On the other hand, given the other crises facing our society, I don’t think there’s any broad support for substantial increases in government support for the arts at the moment. And, deep down, I understand why, even if I don’t agree.
So, since sales and government support aren’t sufficient, we have also sought out individuals who would be willing to act as patrons for particular titles, donating the production costs in exchange for recognition in the book itself. I’m not sure how viable this approach is in the long-term, but we’ve had limited success with it in our first few years, and it’s been a big help to our bottom line.
Also (and I know that many in the arts disagree with me here), I’m not opposed to the idea of corporate and business sponsorship. Publishers would obviously need to make these kinds of arrangements very carefully, and they’d need to be absolutely clear about maintaining their editorial independence, but turning some corporate dollars into the arts seems to me like a way both to allow artists to survive and also to allow socially conscious businesses to support their communities.