At Dundurn Press, we’re celebrating: it’s been 50 years since we started publishing books. Though so much has changed in that time, people’s love of a great book remains constant—and that simple fact has inspired us more than ever.
Founded in 1972 by publisher Kirk Howard, Dundurn originally focused on Canadian history, and then transformed and expanded over the years to encompass a far broader selection of trade fiction and nonfiction, with particular strengths in mystery, biography, and history. By 2010, Dundurn was publishing more than 100 books a year. In 2019, Howard retired and sold the company. The new owners, a group of tech entrepeneurs, appointed Kwame Scott Fraser publisher.
Fraser has overseen a shift in the approach to acquisitions—including reducing the number of books to allow more focus from editorial, design, and marketing on each title—and modernizing the company’s branding with a new logo.
Our new logo—a series of nested, arched openings—references the company’s longstanding colophon of a castle’s facade. (Dundurn Castle, naturally, is a neoclassical mansion completed in 1835 in Hamilton, Ontario.) While a castle could be considered a symbol of authority and exclusivity, the new logo also represents an open door—a welcoming place for authors and a reflection of a reader’s sense of discovery when choosing a book. As the mission statement lays out, “Our books will provide a portal into a place not yet known to the reader, where new voices and stories will be discovered. We invite readers and writers into our diverse cultural and literary community.”
Since Fraser’s arrival, Dundurn has weathered the pandemic, obtained its first Giller shortlisting for The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, opened the Dundurn Press Bookshop, and launched the literary imprint Rare Machines. Fraser remains a proponent of forward thinking and staying ahead of the publishing curve.
“We’ve accomplished so much, but I’m determined to keep pushing Dundurn Press forward,” Fraser says. “While our mainstay is books for the trade, we have so much to offer in the world of audio, including the use of podcasts and audio sharing to help drive interest in books and reading, not to mention the potential for specialized publishing.”
We started celebrating our 50th anniversary this past June at Toronto’s open-air festival of books and magazines, the Word on the Street. It meant a great to deal to the staff and authors to reconnect with readers in person after two years of entirely virtual events. Our booth was busier than ever, with staff spinning our prize wheel and hand-selling discounted books while our authors signed copies and enjoyed a chance to connect with readers in real life.
This August, we took part in Fan Expo, Canada’s largest pop cultural celebration, for the first time. At the event, we hosted a series of literary panels highlighting woman-authored sci-fi (including Christina Kilbourne, author of The Unlimited Sky, and K.S. Covert, author of The Petting Zoos); dark and dangerous debut titles (such as Sifton Tracey Anipare’s Yume and Sumaiya Matin’s The Shaytan Bride); and true crime in Toronto (featuring Slava Pastuk, author of Bad Trips; Nate Hendley, author of The Beatle Bandit; and Lorna Poplak, author of The Don). The third event has since been developed into a podcast series, Mean Streets of Toronto, produced by Canadian company TalkShoe. Recognizing that the next great book could come from anyone, we used our profile at Fan Expo to launch the Dundurn Press/Fan Expo New Voices Writing Award, which will allow budding Canadian authors the chance to win a book deal with Dundurn.
The Dundurn “Summer of Book Love” continues into the fall on our social media channels as well, with our authors writing short love letters about their favorite Dundurn books and an upcoming series of authors’ memories about the press.
To top it all, we had an 50th birthday bash in early September! Industry people, authors, and friends of the press mixed on a wonderful, warm evening under the Toronto night sky. It was a celebration none of us will forget, particularly as the mood was buoyed by news of André Forget’s In the City of Pigs, from our Rare Machines imprint, having made the Giller longlist!
“The marketing team’s 50th anniversary efforts have been just stellar,” Fraser says. “They built excitement around our milestone, encouraging so many to spread the book love. They found ways to elevate titles that had struggled to find their audience due to pandemic release dates and came up with innovative ways to amplify our frontlist, especially with the creative use of audio. When it comes down to it, the reach of TalkShoe’s innovative approach to audio combined with our direct connection with a community as massive as Fan Expo Canada’s builds amazing opportunities for organic growth and sales.”
Fifty years of publishing have gone by in a flash. What started as Howard’s vision to bring our shared history to readers has expanded, developed, and morphed as Canadian culture and the publishing industry have changed and modernized. While we may experiment with new technologies and search for untapped audiences, we will not forget our love for the printed word, whether it be in the form of literary fiction, true crime, or local history. We look forward to another half-century of publishing books by the best authors that enlighten and entertain and spreading our love for them as far as we possibly can.
Kathryn Lane is associate publisher at Dundurn Press.