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Breakwater Books was founded in 1973 by Al Pittman, Tom Dawe, Clyde Rose, Pat Byrne, and Richard Buehler.
The current president is Rebecca Rose.
Tell us a bit about your press. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
Established in 1973, Breakwater Books is Newfoundland’s premier publisher and played a major role in what many commentators consider the dawn of a cultural renaissance in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Breakwater’s express purpose was to publish and promote the work of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, a population seriously underrepresented in Canadian publishing at the time. Over the next thirty years, Breakwater helped commence and establish the literary careers of writers such as Kevin Major, Mary Dalton, Al Pittman, Tom Dawe, and Bernice Morgan while producing textbooks for the provincial education system with decidedly regional content and perspectives.
Today, we’re proud to represent emerging and established authors from across Canada. For nearly 50 years now, we’ve been publishing culturally significant, commercially successful, and critically acclaimed independent Canadian books. Our backlist speaks for itself.
Though we started out as an educational publisher, Breakwater Books has grown into a high-quality trade publisher, releasing eighteen titles a year. Our catalogue includes children’s literature, young adult fiction, literary and commercial fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, fine art and photography books, cookbooks, and more.
What about small press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
We are excited by the opportunity to experiment with new genres and digital mediums. It is an interesting time to be a small publisher, as there has been such an outpouring of support for local and independent businesses over the past several months. Times are challenging, yes, but they have also shone a light on the incredible community we are blessed to be a part of. And, in some ways, there seems to be more opportunity for collaboration and education than ever. Our staff, for instance, have been able to avail of online professional development opportunities that otherwise would have been held exclusively offline and beyond our reach. Increased support for accessible book publishing has meant even more opportunity to learn, grow, and better serve our readers.
How does your press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
We are actively engaged in organizations like the Association of Canadian Publishers, the Literary Press Group of Canada, the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association, with our staff members sitting on boards and committees for each. We also regularly collaborate with Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN – e.g. on the forthcoming E. J. Pratt lecture series books) and our provincial writers’ association, the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador (WANL). Several of our authors are MUN graduates and WANL award winners. Recently, we established a Women’s Network with fellow women-owned publishing houses Pedlar Press and Running the Goat Books and Broadsides to better promote Newfoundland books internationally.
Tell us about three of your publications. What makes them special, needed, and/or unique?
Random Passage by Bernice Morgan is widely known as “one of the most memorable” works of Newfoundland fiction, putting Newfoundland on the CanLit map. In 2002, Random Passage and its sequel, Waiting for Time, inspired a CBC television mini-series.
Almost Feral by Gemma Hickey is a double-edged autobiography of survival and celebration, which engages with the subjects of clergy abuse and LGBT rights while using the normative power of narrative to affect change. The Margaret and John Savage First Book Award – Non-fiction jury said: “Gemma Hickey writes with honesty and heart. Almost Feral is not an easy story, but it’s an important one. Gemma’s strength and bravery shine through in every part of this journey, from childhood to adult, and from one side of Newfoundland to the other. Through beautiful prose, the reader travels Gemma’s 908 km walk… and experiences lessons in faith, tolerance, identity, solitude, and love.” During a trip to Japan in 2019, where Gemma was a featured guest at the Rainbow Reel Tokyo Festival, their reading of Almost Feral was livestreamed worldwide from the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Japanese translation rights for the book have since been sold to Akashi Shoten.
Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge: Excerpts from Chapters I and II by Pam Hall enlists art, community collaboration, and place-based research to capture and mobilize knowledge that is rarely documented, and in most cases is at risk of being lost or forgotten. Hall’s work challenges the idea of an “official” body of knowledge that is believed to hold more merit than other forms of knowledge that have traditionally been undervalued, and consequently, under-used. Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge won the Heritage and History Book Award, a bronze IPPY Award, and a finalist for the Best Atlantic-Published Book Award.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the press?
Like so many others, we had to shift our efforts primarily into the digital space—upgrading our website, investing more in social and email marketing, improving book data, producing digital events, etc. This was a significant adjustment with a necessarily quick turnaround. It forced us to think on our feet and be (especially) creative and came with a lot of trial and error. We also found ourselves taking a step back to assess our values and the role we play in our community. Again, finding plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.
August 7, 2020
In late 2007, as the world’s economy crumbles, the remarkably unremarkable Milton Ontario—not to be confused with Milton, Ontario—leaves his parent’s basement in Saskatchewan and sets forth to find fame, fortune, and love in the electric sexuality of Montreal, to bask in endless Millennial adolescence, to escape the infinite flatness of Saskatchewan, and to find his messiah: Leonard Cohen.
October 14, 2020
In Approaching Fire, Michelle Porter embarks on a quest to find her great-grandfather, the Métis fiddler and performer Léon Robert Goulet. Through musicology, jigs and reels, poetry, photographs, and the ecology of fire, Porter invests biography with the power of reflective ingenuity, creating a portrait which expands beyond documentation into a private realm where truth meets metaphor.
Two for the Tablelands
October 15, 2020
Sebastian Synard is back. It’s the off-season, and the Newfoundland tour guide introduced in One for the Rock has crossed the island with his spirited teenage son for a weekend exploring the wonders of Gros Morne National Park. But on a hike across the spectacular rockscape of The Tablelands, they discover the half-buried body of a murder victim.