The first title published by the University of Regina Press became a bestseller and was named one of the most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk has sold 22,000 copies and helped put the Saskatchewan press on the map. URP was formed in June 2013 out of the ashes of the decades-old Canadian Plains Research Center Press, the University of Regina’s former publisher.
Though URP is an “upstart publisher,” in the parlance of Bruce Walsh, Regina’s publisher since its founding, that hasn’t stopped it from publishing six Canadian bestsellers. In addition to Clearing the Plains, other bestsellers include The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph A. Merasty, which sold 10,000 copies, and David Carpenter and Children of the Broken Treaty: Canada’s Lost Promise and One Girl’s Dream by Charlie Angus, which has sold more than 7,000 copies. Both books were published in 2015, but “they both continue to sell as if they are new,” Walsh said.
More recently, the press had hits with Firewater by Harold Johnson, which looks at the destructive impact alcohol has had on indigenous communities and has sold nearly 10,000 copies. Speaking in Cod Tongues, which looks at Canada’s multicultural culinary heritage, garnered a starred PW review and hit #1 in a range of categories on Amazon.ca.
“A big part of our mission is to give voice to people who are often marginalized in our society,” Walsh said. “We are serious about this and have, for example, nearly 20 indigenous authors at this point on our roster. Indigenous issues are a big political issue: our history has been censored, and it’s now our job to tell the censored history of Canada.”
Though publishing books about First Nations issues is still a focus for the press (it inherited a backlist of about 200 titles from CPRCP, including many indigenous-related titles), Walsh wants to expand URP’s publishing profile. In particular, he has been vocal about his effort to establish a new model for academic publishing. Walsh believes that too much academic writing remains opaque to general readers: “We are trying to change that by publishing academic books with more accessible language. We use a heavier editorial hand that, hopefully, helps them translate to a broader market, just as one would do in the trade.”
To broaden URP’s list,Walsh hasn’t shied away from books that might be universal in subject matter but not to everyone’s taste. That has led URP to release books such as Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus by Jonathan Allan and Virgin Envy: The (In)Significance of the Hymen by Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr. Walsh said these titles have attracted some of the strongest foreign rights interest, from Japan and the U.K., respectively.
Walsh is now on a mission to attract Canadian academics who have been publishing with American university presses to URP. In his frequent meetings with U.S. publishers, Walsh’s pitch is that if American university presses sell URP their Canadian rights, everyone will benefit. “Many Canadian scholars publish with American university presses, but in doing so are missing out on the opportunity to advance their careers in their native land,” he said. “By publishing with us, as Canadians they are then eligible to apply for more awards, it will get them more references, and it will get them read, because they can take advantage of a truly local sales and marketing operations. We are able to sell 10 times as many books in Canada as an American publisher can.”
Walsh pointed to Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People by Michel Hogue. Originally published by the University of North Carolina Press, the book sold only 200 copies in the U.S. When the book was republished by the URP in Canada, it was shortlisted for the Canada Prize (for a top book in the humanities), won the Clio Prize, and sold 1,200 copies.
The two publishers have plans for another collaboration, and Walsh said there are other titles in development with other publishers. “Ultimately, we’re out to prove that you can do fantastic, amazing publishing from anywhere—even little Regina,” Walsh said. “There is a sense among many people that you have to be in Toronto or New York to be at the heart of publishing. We are publishing books that speak to our region, our country, and the entire world.”