Not for a First-Time Indigenous Author & a Start-up Publishing House in Rural Nova Scotia
We are committed to equity in all our activities, including the administration of our prizes and awards. https://canadacouncil.ca/funding/prizes/governor-generals-literary-awards
The Canada Council’s equity statement emboldened HARP Publishing The People’s Press to nominate their latest title, a Truth-and-Reconciliation joint memoir entitled Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Sings to St. Anne in the Literary Non-Fiction category for the Governor General’s Literary Awards.
We were encouraged by the Canada Council’s equity principle of “Cultural Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples.“ Elder John R. Prosper, lead author of Mi’kmaw Fiddler and a first-time published author, aligned perfectly with the Council’s commitment to reaffirm its relationship with Indigenous people: John R. offers “perspectives, voice, stories, struggles and aesthetics” of what it means to be a survivor of Shubenacadie Residential School and yet sustain his deep Christian faith through the intercession of St. Anne, the patron saint of the Mi’kmaw People. Mi’kmaw Fiddler is also unique as a decolonizing memoir written by an Indigenous Elder and a Settler ally. We know of no other such memoir in the popular press.
HARP released this title on St. Anne’s Day (July 26) at St. Anne’s Church, Paqtnkek First Nation, which is shown on the front cover. HARP’s nomination aligned with the Canada Council’s publication window of May 16 to July 31. HARP ordered 250 copies of Mi’kmaw Fiddler to meet the Canada Council’s eligibility requirement. We received these copies a few days before the Feast of St. Anne and the competition deadline of July 31st. We dutifully shipped 4 complimentary copies that would be required for peer review, should our title be eligible.
By July 31st, copies of Mi’kmaw Fiddler were on sale with our Antigonish booksellers, The Curious Cat Tea and Books, and the 5c to $1 Store.
On August 10th, we received an email message from the Canada Council, giving the reason for eliminating HARP’s nomination from the competition.
Reason: To be eligible, a publishing house must “have established a marketplace presence through distribution to Canadian bookstores and through marketing and public awareness efforts”. The publishing house has not demonstrated appropriate distribution to Canadian bookstores.
The list of eligible titles is posted on the Governor General’s Literary Awards website at ggbooks.ca/titles-submitted.
We were disappointed by this impossible criterion both for HARP and an unknown Indigenous first-time author. We were also disappointed that our online bookstore with national distribution along with international distribution through Ingram Spark (e.g. Amazon, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble) did not qualify as an established marketplace presence. When we compared our title to the list of the chosen eligible titles, it was clear we were not on a level playing field. HARP Publishing the People’s Press, which released its first title in December 2018, differs from the accepted eligible titles in terms of years established: HARP is a start-up publisher with less than four years under its belt. Two of those years were in pandemic lock-downs and/or self-isolation. The pandemic along with our location in rural Nova Scotia severely curtailed distribution of books in city bookstores in Nova Scotia and beyond. Booksellers and bookstores whose margins were severely affected by the pandemic were not about to stock a book by an unknown author and from a still new publisher without a bestseller to its name.
HARP The People’s Press, like other small publishing houses affected by the pandemic, amplifies its public awareness and market presence through its online bookstore, which we promote through social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. https://www.harppublishing.ca/books/
On account of the non-negotiable, capitalist criterion focused on the marketplace, HARP’s nomination of a title by an unknown, first-time Indigenous author never stood a chance among the Canada Council’s chosen, which include such marketable “name” authors as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Lawrence Hill, Tomson Highway, Sheree Fitch, Peter Mansbridge, Anna Quon, Alexander MacLeod, Bruce Kidd, Michael Ignatieff, Beverley McLachlin, George Elliott Clarke, Thomas King, Lesley Crewe, Maude Barlow and…and…and
How is this equity?
Typically, HARP’s first print run is under 100 copies so now we were asking. How to get our 250 copies in bookstores across Canada? Aware that the reason given for our elimination from the competition was our lack of market presence in bookstores, we contacted Canada Council. Would they consider donating the four copies of Mi’kmaw Fiddler that they no longer needed for peer review to bookstores and libraries in Ottawa?
We have not received a response.
Divine intercession from St. Anne has guided Elder John R. Prosper and Settler Dorothy Lander throughout their pilgrimage. Could it be that HARP will need to rely on St. Anne to guide national distribution of Mi’kmaw Fiddler to bookstores and libraries? A week after the release of Mi’kmaw Fiddler at the Feast of St. Anne at Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation in Antigonish County, John R.’s godchild was on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré not far from Quebec City. A sign? A miracle? She came upon a copy of Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Prays to St. Anne in the display of sacred books.