BC’s newest publisher
March 21st, 2023
BC BookWorld interviews Wendy Atkinson who has taken over Ronsdale Press after the passing of publisher Ron Hatch. An arts programmer and musician with a background in publishing, Atkinson shows what to do with an English degree.
BC BookWorld: After two decades in the performing arts, you are back in publishing. How does your new role as publisher relate to your previous work?
Wendy Atkinson: I worked most recently at the Chan Centre at UBC where I created and programmed a performance series called Beyond Words. That series explored the power of words in performance and highlighted progressive social justice themes. For example, I paired writers Carmen Aguirre, Aislinn Hunter and Nancy Lee with choreographers to create new work, and I booked performing artists who have published books such as Tanya Tagaq, Ivan Coyote, Cliff Cardinal and international artists like Laurie Anderson. I’m excited to bring my programming vision to my publishing ideas for Ronsdale Press.
BCBW: What is your connection to BC publishing?
WA: Many years ago, when I was just out of university and wondering what to do with an English degree, I started working at the Association of Book Publishers of BC. I was very lucky to be mentored by executive director Margaret Reynolds, who was recently honoured with the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award. I later worked for Brian Lam at Arsenal Pulp Press, and I have always admired his strong focus and vision for the press. In my musical life, I played bass on East-side poet Bud Osborn’s CD, Hundred Block Rock.
BCBW: What opportunities do you see for Ronsdale Press?
WA: After acquiring the press in 1988, Ron and Veronica Hatch worked hard to build the press into its existing form. Ronsdale has ‘good bones’ with its solid distribution and sales representation; good relationships with authors, booksellers, suppliers and funders; and solid 30-year publishing history.
Recently, we have been revitalizing marketing efforts, especially through social media. This past fall we created video book trailers for all of the fall titles, which have been very popular and increased traffic to Ronsdale’s YouTube channel. We have also been exploring promotional opportunities in non-book media. For example, Alexander Globe, author of Gold, Grit, Guns, appeared on BNN Bloomberg’s Commodities show, and Antony Di Nardo’s poetry book Forget- Sadness-Grass was excerpted in Canadian Gardener.
BCBW: What are your plans for Ronsdale moving forward?
WA: My first goal is to publish all of the books that Ron Hatch contracted before he passed away, and by this summer all of those books will be released. My next step is to bring my vision to future publishing decisions. I am prioritizing diverse authors and books that tackle contemporary themes as well as continuing with Ronsdale’s strengths, such as BC history. This spring we are publishing Hands Like Trees, a story cycle by Sabyasachi Nag that poetically depicts the entangled lives of the Sen family. George Elliott Clarke said “Hands Like Trees is Arundhati Roy as if written in the mode of Alice Munro.”
Next fall we are publishing two adult fiction titles: an epic story of a woman living through the Japanese invasion of China and a short story collection that takes a frank and evocative look at the power and vulnerabilities of “women of a certain age.” We are also publishing a YA novel that tackles climate change with the main character reeling from the repercussions of the Fort Mac fire in Alberta.
BCBW: What challenges do you see ahead?
WA: During Ron’s lengthy illness and after his passing there was a lot of uncertainty around the future of the press, which meant that many of Ronsdale’s activities were stalled. Assistant publisher Kevin Welsh was instrumental in keeping Ronsdale going during that difficult period. As we re-ignite the press, I’m passionate about collaborating with writers to bring their books into the world.
Ronsdale also faces the same challenges as other publishers regarding dramatic increases in paper, printing and shipping costs; the changing landscape for book review media; and how to connect with readers. Also, in this time of increasing consolidation and influence of US publishers, support of independent Canadian presses is more important than ever.
I look forward to connecting with colleagues through the ABPBC to talk about these issues. Book publishing has always been a challenging, vital and exciting business, and book publishers are resilient.
Interview (BCBW 2023)