In House: ECW Press

ECW Press, just a year the LPG's senior at the ripe age of 41, has been a prominent member of the Literary Press Group since its inception, and has remained in cahoots ever since. As a press, it's emerged from a very literary background (with the journal Essays on Canadian Writing) to a dynamic publisher that's true to its lit roots but never afraid to branch out into projects with a little more star-power (Nicolas Cage retrospective, anyone?). Read on to learn more about how the press got started, and the early and ongoing driving force behind its success: founder Jack David.

ECW was started by Jack David, as the journal Essays on Canadian Writing in 1974, from which came the E, the C, and the W. By the second issue, Robert Lecker had joined up, and quickly became a key player. Robert and Jack began to develop books for other publishers, and when a huge bibliography series was cancelled in 1978 because the publisher, PMA Books, went bankrupt, they decided to take on the publishing themselves, believing that the experience of producing a critical journal would transfer to the publishing of books. The first book published was an index to the first twelve issues of the journal, and the next was a reprint (with a fresh cover) of a collection of essays about Hugh Hood (the book was titled After the Flood). 

By the early 1980s, we began to develop more traditional trade books, and via John Metcalf, we took on fiction from Leon Rooke, Hood, and Metcalf. Through the next ten years, we focused on scholarly projects, and occasionally dabbled in more accessible trade books, including  The Night the Dog Smiled, a book of poetry by John Newlove nominated for the Governor General's Award. Through the early 1990s, we expanded our scholarly list to include biographies, and the breakthrough came when we chose to publish books about non-literary folks, the key being the first biography of k.d. lang. The book broke out in the American market, and showed us that we could be successful publishing popular trade books.

We have followed the path of literary/commercial titles since the mid-90s. As the company has grown and changed, our name, in our minds, has also changed. We’ve heard the company called Essential Canadian Writing, Excellent Contemporary Writing, or, more recently, Extreme Cutting-Edge Writing. And these names have been, and still are, appropriate. But now we realize that each of those letters represents a particular strain of ECW Press’s diverse passions: Entertainment, Culture, Writing.

Until September 2015, ECW’s logo was a woodcut image depicting our commitment to excellence: it illustrated the transformation of basic material into gold. With its robin-egg blue tone, ECW’s new logo (pictured at top) harkens back to the colour of the original Essays on Canadian Writing. We love how it captures both our dynamic energy and history with rotated letters that are, like ECW, organically askew.

Jack was the driving force of the company, and continues to be one today. The initial trigger was a lack of material back then about Canadian writers. That remains our biggest passion, and we still publish books about Canadian writers if they contribute something fresh and interesting. But we’ve added a lot more passions to our list, publishing books in areas where we feel we can contribute something valuable. And the same is true for our fiction and poetry. That these are important books, and have to be read by others, is still a primary driving force for us.

ECW and the LPG have a long-standing connection. Jack served as chair or co-chair three times (in three decades), David Caron worked as the Executive Director during the GDS bankruptcy and later as Chair, and Erin Creasey came to work at ECW from her LPG job. In the early 1980s, along with co-chair Simon Dardick (of Vehicule Press), Jack organized the LPG distribution agreement with UTP, arranging for grant support from the Canada Council and the Dept. of Communications (later, Heritage). After five years, the distribution revenue was sufficient so that the LPG could investigate other distributors (without grant support), and along with Marc Cote (the ED at the time), we were courted by five distributors, ultimately settling on General. We also continued to develop the sales force, which required grant support on an ongoing basis. The 1990s were a relatively calm period, and then came the 2001 failure of GDS, the disruption of service, and the loss of money. Jack was Chair and David was the ED, and out of that crisis they developed a strong working relationship that resulted in David being hired at ECW, and eventually (in 2013) buying the company from Jack.