In House: Coteau Books

Coteau Books was founded in 1975 by four writers in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan who saw the need for a publishing house that would focus on writing from the Prairies, and, in particular, writing from Saskatchewan. 40 years - and almost 500 books - later, Coteau has established itself as a publishing house of merit and integrity. At its head is new publisher John Agnew, who shared with us his zeal for literary publishing and where Coteau will go next.

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It is one of those auspicious moments of synchronicity that 2015 is the year of both the LPG’s 40th anniversary and the 40th anniversary of Coteau Books. It is also the year that I started as publisher of Coteau. Nik Burton has stepped down as our formidable leader after twenty years.

My love affair with Canadian publishing started in school. I went to a school on Bloor St. in Toronto. It was next door to Rochdale College, which housed the SCM Bookstore - run by a man named Bob Miller. His name lives on today with the Bob Miller Book Room. 

Miller was an endearing and passionate advocate for good Canadian writing. He directed my classmates and me to what he believed was important Canadian reading: Ondaatje, Atwood, Roch Carrier. Coach House Press was around the corner and down the alley. For me, the idea of making books written by talented people was so damn cool!

40 years on, I have finally finished school, Rochdale has become a seniors residence, and the Bob Miller Book Room is still around, as are Ondaatje, Atwood and Carrier. Coach House is still in the alley, where it belongs. 

My aspirations have veered a bit here and there, but I have finally come around to literary publishing after working for magazines, newspapers, radio, television and, of course, digital media. 

Coteau Books was founded in 1975 by four writers in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. They saw the need for a publishing house that would focus on writing from the Prairies, and, in particular, writing from Saskatchewan. 40 years - and almost 500 books - later, Coteau has established itself as a publishing house of merit and integrity. Coteau authors have won myriad prizes for their books, including seven finalists, and one winner, of the Governor-General’s awards. 

Our books have been sold in other countries and been published in other languages. 

And while much has changed over the last 40 years, my excitement at the arrival of a new book has not abated. Books still ignite ideas, stir embers in the human psyche, and every now again, change lives. And while all of that may be part of the mission statement, at the heart of the matter, it’s fun to make books.

The annual meeting of the LPG that I attended last spring was my first.  It was a delight to be in a room with so many people who were afflicted with the publishing mania. I felt very much at home. In the culture wars, literary publishers are the munitions makers. 

I am looking forward to the next 40 years. If this year at Coteau is any indication, it ought to be so damn cool.