Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp Press publishes books that engage and challenge readers and ask probing questions about the world around us. From Vegetarian cookbooks to LGBTQ stories, Arsenal has always made the voices at the edges of society stand out, in award-winning, interesting, challenging books. Their publishing mandate, committed to giving voice to writers who work from the margins, whether social, cultural, racial, sexual, or gender-based; and to publishing work by new voices subverting old systems, goes right back to their roots.
Beginning as Pulp Press in 1971, Arsenal was founded by a group of young writers and University students, led by Stephen Osborne (the present-day publisher of GEIST magazine) and his brother, the poet Tom Osborne. Pulp formed in response to what they saw as a prevalence of academic pretension in literary publishing. They published political manifestos and broadsheets, including Tom’s Please wait for attendant to open gate. Arsenal became known for this badass reputation: once, they secretly handed out pot brownies at a national book fair to promote the stoner cookbook Scrambled Brains, and in the 1970s, a Member of Parliament waved one of their books around during a parliamentary session as an example of public funding gone awry.
From left to right: co-founder Stephen Osborne with production manager Dennis Priebe; editor Tom Walmsley; and editor D.M. Fraser, who were both playwrights as well.
But, Arsenal books have been brandished for good reasons, too. Their first translation, The Dictionary of Homophobia (originally published in French), was put together by an in-house team of five editors re-translating the work with the help of the original author, after the first translation fell short. Their hard work paid off – the book was widely praised, and was even mentioned in the United Nations during a declaration urging the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world.
Arsenal’s books have also been recognized by many awards juries, including the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Lambda Literary Awards, Vancouver Book Awards, and BC Book Prizes (Arsenal itself won the Jim Douglas BC Publisher of the Year award in 2007). Their mettle was tested and proved when a small witch hunt gathered to strip Arsenal author Raziel Reid from his GG for Children’s Literature, and their tenacity in defending the “gritty, difficult, intense, but above all, truthful,” When Everything Feels Like the Movies (in the words of current publisher Brian Lam) made it the most buzz-worthy title at 2015’s CBC Canada Reads bout. Raziel isn’t the only debut author they’ve championed: Arsenal’s launched the careers of Michael Turner, David Chariandy, Amber Dawn, Raziel Reid, Ivan E. Coyote, Billeh Nickerson, Daniel Allen Cox, and Wayde Compton.
The press makes a concerted effort to engage in their Vancouver community. They have close relationships with our local indie booksellers, including Pulpfiction, Paper Hound, Book Warehouse, and Little Sister's, and local literary promoters such as the Real Vancouver Writers Series and the Vancouver Writers Festival. Their office space is in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, where they just joined a rooftop garden, stating that they may conduct future editorial meetings up there while taking care of the plants.
All the same, Arsenal finds audiences everywhere for their books: Vancouver, Canada, the United States, and worldwide. In fact, a certain someone called in a book order and spelled the name on their credit card thus: "Martin S-C-O-R-S-E-S-E."
Current Arsenal Pulp Press Publisher Brian Lam, and Associate Publisher Robert Ballantyne.