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Founders and Current Leadership
Guernica Editions was founded in 1978 by Antonio D’Alfonso, who managed the press until 2010, when Michael Mirolla and Connie McParland took up the mantle as publishers.
Poet, novelist, essayist, translator, Antonio D’Alfonso has published more than fifty books (including translations) and has made three feature films. He managed Guernica for thirty-three years. For his writings, he won the Trillium Award, the Bressani Award, and the New York Independent Film Award for his film, Bruco. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. In 2016, he received a Honorary Doctorate from Athabasca University. His new film, TATA (Daddy), was released in July 2020. The Two-Headed Man: Collected Poems 1970-2020 was published in July 2020.
Michael Mirolla serves as editor-in-chief for Guernica Editions. His publications include three Bressani Prize winners: the novel Berlin (2010); the poetry collection The House on 14th Avenue (2014); and the short story collection, Lessons in Relationship Dyads (2016). He is also the author of two novellas, three other novels, two other short story collections and a second poetry collection. The short story, “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected for The Journey Prize Anthology; and “The Sand Flea” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. His latest novella, The Last News Vendor, claimed first place in the Readers View Awards. A speculative fiction collection, Paradise Island & Other Galaxies, was published in the fall of 2020. In the fall of 2019, Michael served a three-month writer’s residency at the Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, during which time he finished the first draft of a novel, The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Born in Italy, raised in Montreal, Michael lives in Hamilton.
Co-director of Guernica Editions, Connie Guzzo-McParland has a BA in Italian Literature and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Upon graduation from the Master’s program, she received the David McKeen Award for creative writing for her thesis-novel, Girotondo. In 2005, an excerpt from this novel, On the Way to Halifax, translated into Italian, won second prize at the ninth edition of the Premio Letterario Cosseria in Cosseria, Italy. Her novel, The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, was published in 2013 by Linda Leith Publishing and shortlisted for the Concordia First Novel Award by the Quebec Writers Federation. Her second novel, The Women of Saturn, was released in May 2017 by Inanna Publications and will be translated and published in Italy in 2021. She lives in Montreal.
Tell us a bit about your press. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
When Guernica Editions was founded in Montreal in 1978, Antonio D’Alfonso’s vision was to contribute to social and cultural change through literature. Guernica was influenced by several publishing models when it first started out: 1920s Britain, 1930s France, 1950s Quebec, 1960s Italy. When the press made the move to Toronto in 1994, D’Alfonso sought to provide greater forum for creative and intellectual exchange by translating and uniting North American Italians. As Canadian society called for greater attention to questions of ethnicity and multiculturalism, Guernica was both prompting this call and responding to it through its commitment to publishing authors from minority communities. Guernica has long been radically involved in the fight against cultural denigration. The press has enabled many readers and writers to see that there is literary life outside of assimilation and cultural effacement.
Michael Mirolla and Connie McParland have been continuing on with the mandate to publish poetry, prose, non-fiction and drama that reflects its commitment to a social agenda. Guernica’s motto is “No Borders, No Limits.” One of the very important roles of a press is to facilitate the publishing of new voices, and that is what Guernica seeks to do: to believe in new authors, to take risks, to continue to expand literary culture in Canada and beyond while breaking down barriers.
What about indie press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Small teams make it easier for us to get to know our authors on a more personal level, by building these relationships it also helps in other departments like publicity, marketing or sales. Our scale helps us learn about our authors’ involvement in their local literary communities. Where might their books fit best? Where are their local bookshops and what kinds of side hobbies do they have? Such close relationships with our authors helps us to create publishing experiences that reflect authors’ lifestyles and values, as we did with the unique book trailer for Leaves on Frozen Ground, inspired by author Dave Carty’s interest in woodworking.
Indie presses are all about community and a deep engagement with literature. Many of us behind the scenes at Guernica also have books published by Guernica and by other Canadian presses. We are deeply embedded and engaged with the literary community at every level. We love to see what other indie presses are doing. We cultivate relationships with our publishing peers. We learn, contribute, and grow. We’re excited by the cultural shift to celebrate authors’ diverse identities, as it’s a shift we’ve been pushing for for many years. We’re excited by literary hybridization, by different genres coming together in innovative ways.
How does your press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
Engaging with community is a big part of our mission, and we do that in many ways. From Michael Mirolla’s new interview series, A Sixfold Path for Expanding CanLit’s Reach; to our legendary group book launches at Supermarket in Kensington Market; to Dane Swan’s anthology celebrating diverse voices in Changing the Face of Canadian Literature; to various reading series hosted by Guernica authors, such as Bänoo Zan’s beloved Shab-e Sh’er Poetry Night; our presence in the various literary communities of CanLit is acknowledged by many.
Prior to the pandemic, Guernica’s main stomping grounds were Toronto and Hamilton, with thriving outposts in Montreal and Ottawa, but now that communities have moved online, we have been able to share virtual space with authors and readers from all over the country and beyond. On October 16th, two of our authors, Ian Shaw (Quill of the Dove) and Arianna Dagnino (The Afrikaner), and Sonja Finck, the German translator of Ava Farmehri’s Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang, will be participating in an international hybrid panel, “Canada in Translation at Frankfurt,” in BOOKFEST at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Our community engagement is flourishing worldwide, locally, and from the comfort of our homes, and we’ve been quick to adapt to the changes brought on by the the pandemic. In these times, community is more important than ever. Our Sunday book launches always meant a packed house — now we can welcome even more Guernica booklovers to our virtual events, no need to squeeze!
Tell us about three of your publications. What makes them special, needed, and/or unique?
This Cleaving and This Burning by J. A. Wainwright was winner of the 2019 Guernica Literary Prize. This novel is an LGBTQ+ reimagining of the lives and relationships of American literary giants Ernest Hemingway and Hart Crane. Their complex sexual identities undermine their intense private relationship as the years pass, inflicting damage that cannot be undone by their public reputations or the excellence of their fiction and poetry. It’s a story of creative passions stoked by unspoken desires within the mind and heart. The Guernica Prize Jury called it a bold and brilliant novel that will transport readers to another era.
Cosmic Bowling by Cornelia Hoogland and Ted Goodden is a collaborative collection of Hoogland’s poems and Goodden’s ceramic sculptures, responding through image and text to the ancient book of wisdom, the I Ching, or Book of Changes. This book can be read in the usual way, straight through from cover to cover, or it can be used as a tool for reflection, meditation, and discussion. We suggest considering one sculpture/poem pairing per day. Fellow writers may choose to use these pairings as writing prompts or as a guide through the collaborative process. Readers who enjoyed Sheila Heti’s memoir Motherhood will find in Cosmic Bowling the opportunity to bring the merits of the I Ching into their own lives.
Marianne Micros’s collection of short fiction, Eye, was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General’s Award for fiction. The collection draws from old world magic — particularly ancient Greece — to tell stories of nymphs, changelings and wise women through the ages. The evil eye plays a role in many of these stories, preying on the characters’ relationships and fears. In these stories, Micros thinks a lot about what these old myths and folktales have to tell us about women.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the press?
The pandemic has forced us to get more creative and involved in more online communities (which are thriving) and acted as a learning opportunity as to how we can become more proactive about accessibility issues. We’ve made the decision to either live-stream or offer virtual counterparts to all of our future physical book launches and events. Going forward, we’ll be actively exploring ways to make our titles and events more accessible. Our team members already worked remotely prior to 2020, so our pivot points have mostly been in the area of publicity and foreign rights sales. Book fairs, conferences, and festivals that have been cancelled or postponed. We’ve seen some of these larger events have to postpone, while more grassroots endeavours, such as rob mclennan’s video journal, periodicities, have cropped up to fill that space, responding to the desire for connection and literature that fits into the constraints of the global pandemic. As the saying goes, constraint breeds creativity.