Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Bruce McPherson

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

I have had some really interesting conversations with people in the publishing industry this year.  The present is a time of great upheaval and change for many in publishing.  Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Steves of Canada’s relatively tiny Gaspereau Press, just before their book, The Sentimentalists won that country major book award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Soon after, I was able to talk to Bruce McPherson of McPherson & Co., about his many years of publishing and the great news that his recently published Lord of Misrule by old friend Jaimy Gordon had won the National Book Award (quite a surprise for all!).  It’s unusual enough for a major national book award to recognize the work of independently published books, but to have two almost simultaneously in both the US and Canada must mean something about these times.  In other words, I don’t think these are outlier events.

As it happens, I’ve known Bruce and Jaimy for about as long as I have known anyone, going back to when Bruce began publishing as Treacle Press right after graduating Brown in the early 1970’s.  The first book he published was Jaimy’s superb and inventive novel, Shamp of the City-Solo.  I read that book because Bruce told me I must, and loved its wildly inventive story and Jaimy’s brilliant writing.  I’ve been a fan and reader of hers ever since.  Bruce has published a wide range of interesting books in film, art and fiction.  He’s developed a clear vision of who, what and how he will operate as a publisher, and has managed to invent a working business model that in many ways reflects his own independent thinking and unwillingness to compromise art for common business demands.

In many ways, the recognition of Jaimy Gordon as a great writer is a recognition of Bruce McPherson as a great publisher, and a validation of a somewhat old fashioned notion of commitment and loyalty to art, talent and human beings.  Writers as living, breathing, suffering artists whose publishers support them, prod them to do their best work, and love them unabashedly and without compromise.  That may sound sentimental in these harsh times, but it’s a sentiment I am willing to cherish and celebrate.  I admire Bruce and the body of work he has produced in more than 35 years of struggle.

Neither Bruce nor McPherson & Co. promote anything other than the books and authors themselves, i.e., it’s not about the publisher, it’s about the books.  I very much enjoyed the opportunity, therefore, to shine a bit of light on Bruce and his work, and hopefully to illuminate something of what his publishing has meant and means for our culture.  And of course the experience of winning the NBA is present throughout.  I hope listeners will enjoy this podcast in tandem with my current interview with Jaimy Gordon as well.

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