If you live in Toronto and you love Canadian Literature then you’ve probably heard of Coach House Books.
Coach House burst on the scene when Stan Bevington, a young typesetter from Edmonton, purchased a Challenge Gordon platen press with funds earned by selling prints of the new Canadian maple leaf flag and rented an old coach house in 1965. With his colleague, Dennis Reid, they printed their first book of poetry, Man in a Window, by Wayne Clifford soon after. It wasn’t long before writers and artists flocked to Bevington and Reid, including bpNichol, with Journeying and The Returns, and Michael Ondaatje, with The Dainty Monsters.
Since that time they have been both publishing and printing (these are different things!) books, helping to launch the careers of some of Canada’s favourite home-grown writers such as Fred Wah, Ann-Marie MacDonald, George Bowering, Nicole Brossard, Anne Michaels, Andrew Kaufman, Christian Bök, and André Alexis. To date they have about 300 in-print backlist titles that tell the story of a press that sets out “to nurture and champion a list that is accomplished, diverse and original, comprising works by both new and established authors and including reprints of important Canadian books.”
One book that particularly stands out in the minds over at Coach House is Eunoia by Christian Bök. Originally published in 2001, Eunoia is a collection of poetry in which each chapter features only words with one vowel (chapter one only uses words with A etc…), with each vowel taking on a distinct personality. Eunoia won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002, was named one of the Times’ Top Ten Books of 2008, and was recently discussed on Fox News (as a favourite of illusionist Penn Jillette). Selling almost 40000 copies in North America, it even sparked a brief debate about whether or not avant-garde poetry was entering the mainstream. (You can listen to Christian Bök reading Eunoia here.)
Since that Griffin win, Coach House has continued to grow their prestige by publishing other award-nominated and winning titles, including Nerve Squall by Sylvia Legris (Griffin Poetry Prize, 2006), Lemon Hound by Sina Queyras (Pat Lowther Award, 2007), Crabwise to the Hounds by Jeramy Dodds (Trillium Book Award for Poetry, 2008), Monoceros by Suzette Mayr (WO Mitchell Book Prize, 2012), Fault Lines by Nicholas Billon (Governor General’s Award for Drama, 2013), Pastoral by André Alexis (Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize, 2014), and Broom Broom by Brecken Hancock (Trillium Book Award for Poetry, 2015). And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, was a contender on this year’s Canada Reads.
It’s not just their books that turn heads, either: Coach House is a two-time winner of the CBA Libris Award for Small Press Publisher of the Year (2007, 2010) and received the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2008. Stan Bevington was admitted into the Order of Canada in 2009 and received the Robert R. Reid Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alcuin Society in 2012.
Coach House stays true to its roots (they’re back to the original pressmark) while also looking ahead to the future. In 2013, they launched Exploded Views, a series of essay collections that look at some of the most intriguing contemporary cultural issues and figures from different and often surprising perspectives. Written by some of North America’s most lyrical journalists and critics, Coach House says Exploded Views, “addresses the dearth we saw of short-form nonfiction that prioritizes inventive, skilled writing and literary synthesis of thought about somewhat unconventional subject matter.”
Still located in the old coach house on the University of Toronto campus, where their wireless router sits on top of a Datapoint 2200, the one thing that has always stayed the same is their desire and effort to connect with local readers and be part of the community. They open the coach house to visitors all year round, most notably during Doors Open and their annual Wayzgoose celebration, and attend various local festivals and markets, such as Word on the Street, regularly. (Find out more about taking a tour of the coach house here.)
If you can’t make it to one of their events in person, they maintain a solid yet quirky presence on various social media platforms. One moment they could be talking about a review of one of their books, the next they could be offering you a nickel off your book purchase in celebration of the Chavril union.
If you were to ask them to describe their press in 140 characters or less they would say “good on paper since 1965” and we’d have to agree (so do all the squirrels, mice, and groundhogs that love to stop by and visit them). Happy 50th Coach House!
We'll leave you with a digital tour of the coach house, created by Nelson Rogers and Sam Hall.