Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Profile: Between the Lines

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BTL Retreat (late 1970s; photographer unknown)

By Amanda Miller

Photo: BTL retreat, circa late 1970s.

Between the Lines, a small, independent Canadian publishing house, celebrated its 35th birthday this year. Quill and Quire recently featured BTL and two other progressive Canadian indie presses, Fernwood Publishing and Les Éditions Écosociété, in a profile that dug into the secrets of their success—among them, their shared “outsider” status.

The milestone marked 35 years of embracing critical perspectives and presenting challenging ideas and analyses that are timely, evocative and not readily found in mainstream offerings. They have been called proudly “left-wing, feminist, queer positive and anti-racist” as well as “tenacious,” and the press strives to produce books that are not only well-researched and edited, but also “accessible to a broad range of readers.”

Between the Lines was founded in 1977, a time when independent bookstores flourished but Canadian books were not well-stocked. In the beginning, there was no business plan. “We just filled a car trunk with copies of our first book,” writes author and editorial committee member Jamie Swift in a 2001 Briarpatch profile of BTL, “and peddled it from store to store.”

Of course, they have since developed a wealth of strategies. Because Chapters tends to display bestselling fiction and merchandise as opposed to the critical non-fiction books that BTL produces, the press targeted the college market. Managing Editor Amanda Crocker “estimates that annual sales are split almost evenly between trade and academic markets.”

Swift notes that they also strive to develop books in conjunction with social movements and current events. “We see books as more than just commodities... they should somehow fit into political struggles.” Some of its 2012 books include Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, Haiti's New Dictatorship by Justin Podur and Speaking Up: A History of Language and Politics in Canada and Quebec by Marcel Martel and Martin Pâquet, all prime examples of books about issues on the minds of many Canadians.

The press, its authors and its books have also earned their share of awards: a HUGO Award, UALE Best Book in Labor Education, Myers Center Outstanding Book Award Advancing Human Rights, two Canadian Historical Association Sir John A. Macdonald Prizes, a Cesar E. Chavez Black Eagle Award (Cultural), and a Saddlemyer Award (2012) among the most recent.

In fact, on December 5, Between the Lines will be presented with the $10,000 Wilson Prize for Publishing Canadian History “for its record of invigorating and broadening the field of Canadian History.” The Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University praises BTL for “their scholarly rigor (unusual for a trade press), their intellectual depth, and their valuable contributions to our understanding of Canada and Canadians” and “applaud[s their] efforts to apply academic standards to works aimed at a broad (and not necessarily academic) audience of readers.”

The prize money is earmarked for BTL's use in their work to publish Canadian history books by “historians whose work tells the stories of Canadians whose experiences are often left out of the mainstream history of Canada.”

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