Sheila Barry, the highly respected publisher of Groundwood Books, the children’s book subsidiary of House of Anansi Press, died in Toronto of complications from cancer on Nov. 15, 2017. Semareh Al-Hillal was named publisher of Groundwood in April.
When Publishers Weekly asked if I’d be interested in writing a few words about my new role as publisher at Groundwood Books and Sheila Barry’s legacy, it felt to be an impossible task. How to possibly encapsulate the layers of emotions surrounding stepping into a role previously held—and brilliantly embodied—by my friend and colleague of 25 years, whose untimely death left a gaping hole of grief among friends and colleagues in the children’s literature community?
I was lucky to work with Sheila day-to-day for many years, first at Harcourt Brace and then at Kids Can Press. Though the sadness comes seeping in from time to time (suddenly, upon seeing her handwriting, for instance), I carry a great deal of joy in my thoughts of Sheila.
There was a lot of laughter—so much laughter. And the sharing of many of life’s milestones. Sheila was beloved by so many people, and I understand exactly why: because I loved her too.
I am joining Groundwood Books as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary. Founder Patsy Aldana grew Groundwood into a company that became renowned internationally for the quality of its publishing program. Sheila joined the company in 2012. In her nearly six years at Groundwood, as fiction editor Shelley Tanaka so aptly put it, “Sheila deftly carried on the incredible legacy that Patsy had built, publishing books that engage a child’s sense of joy and wonder while continuing Groundwood’s commitment to books that are about something, reflecting a commitment to social justice and diversity issues, and children’s engagement with the world and with each other.”
All of us at Groundwood and House of Anansi look forward to bringing to light the books Sheila had committed to publishing. I am deeply grateful to the many authors, illustrators, and colleagues here in Canada and around the world who have sent me into this new chapter with encouraging notes full of grace, warmth and generosity. They have truly buoyed me as I take on this role and energize me to champion new works that push out at perceived boundaries and offer a place for children and teens to see themselves.
Semareh Al-Hillal is the publisher of Groundwood Books.