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.
ABOUT OUR FOUNDERS
Dennis Lee is the author of more than thirty books of poetry and prose, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. He was born in Toronto in 1939, wrote the song lyrics for Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock, and in 2001 he was named the city’s first poet laureate. He initiated the programme of Legacy plaques in Toronto, and recently served as a resident artist with Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Dave Godfrey was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1938. A writer, publisher, and academic, Godfrey published three works of fiction: the novel The New Ancestors, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and the short story collections Death Goes Better with Coca-Cola and Dark Must Yield. He was co-founder of both House of Anansi and New Press, and ran Press Porcépic with his wife, writer Ellen Godfrey. He studied at the University of Toronto, Iowa, and Stanford, and taught literature at the University of Toronto and the University of Victoria.