What happened to Greenboathouse Books?

For ten years (1999—2008) Greenboathouse Books functioned as a small digital press, publishing inexpensive yet well-written, designed & produced chapbooks with the mandate of promoting emerging and compelling Canadian writers in a format that was accessible to as wide a readership as possible. Towards the end of that ten years I began producing books which, in my opinion, achieved as much as could be expected from a production process that was, in many ways, inherently compromised.

Digital printing, while having improved greatly over the past few years, involves the transfer of toner, via heat and laser, onto the surface of its target paper. As such, the 'ink' does not actually penetrate the stock, and, given enough time, the bond will eventually begin to break down and the toner to flake and deteriorate. It is, of course, an extremely convenient method of printing, inexpensive and quick for short runs, but it is also an essentially transitory product. In an exchange on the topic, after sending him a copy of one of our books, and speaking of what he referred to as 'fugitive media,' Robert Bringhurst once chided , good-naturedly, that:

There's nothing wrong with fugitive media — music and dance and oral poetry for instance — but a good live performance disappears in a blaze of glory instead of decaying little by little. Sudden disappearance is the next best thing (or maybe the next better thing) to lasting forever, as letterpress on honest paper does.

 

This observation and comment got under my skin and has stuck with me ever since, and while Greenboathouse Books continued producing such fugitive media for a few more years, the goal had become letterpress, and it was simply a matter of time before things would change.

In 2007 that change began when the acquisition of a press became a possibility (for more information on the provenance of the press, please see The Gear page). A year or two of planning was necessary to put various things in order (including a move from Victoria to Vernon, the construction of a new studio, and the shipment of the press, etc.), and as such Greenboathouse Books continued, albeit haltingly, to run out the final year or two of its decade.

In addition to producing chapbooks, Greenboathouse Books also produced an on-line poetry archive, and a summer reading series (1999—2002, 2004 & 2005), as well as a side project known as [Variant]. While these projects have been archived on this site, there are no plans to continue with them. This is simply a matter of necessity: in order to focus on the production of fine-press books — and, of course, not lose the day-job — tangential projects had to be sacrificed.

While Greenboathouse Books was a vital and rewarding stage of development, and while I'm proud of what we accomplished (of the authors we published and the books we produced, of the awards we received and the hundreds of supportive letters and emails) it was time to start anew. The goal now is not to dismiss what we've done, but to attempt to meet the new challenges of letterpress with the same blind curiosity and determination that made Greenboathouse Books the relatively unknown yet well-respected thing that it was.

 

Jason Dewinetz

 

For an interesting exploration of the digital vs. letterpress debate, see Rollin Milroy's article "But is it Real Printing?" in the October 2007 (No. 147) issue of the Alcuin Society's magazine Amphora.

 

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