Inside House of Anansi Press, the Legendary Publisher’s Junction Book Shop and Office
When it comes to iconic Toronto publishers, House of Anansi Press is hard to beat. It was founded in 1967 by young nationalists Dennis Lee and David Godfrey, who had a simple goal: to publish excellent Canadian writers. Since then, Anansi has become synonymous with north-of-the-border talent. The press published Margaret Atwood’s first two books of poetry, The Circle Game and Power Politics, and her seminal work of literary criticism, Survival, and also published early work by some of this country’s most legendary authors, including Roch Carrier, Graeme Gibson, Michael Ondaatje, Al Purdy and, yes, Dennis Lee and David Godfrey. Today, the house is renowned for its skill in finding and developing the work of brilliant, captivating writers—specifically those who specialize in literary fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction (think: Katherena Vermette, Patrick deWitt, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Karen Solie, Ins Choi and Tanya Talaga).
What fans of their work may not realize, however, is that House of Anansi Press also has a relatively new bibliophile-approved bookstore in the Junction. The indie publisher began life in the basement of a historic Annex home at Bloor and Spadina, and they most recently had offices on the eighth floor of a building in the Garment District at King and Spadina. Approximately three years ago, when Anansi made the decision to open a storefront, they relocated to Sterling Road in the Junction. The team knew that opening a physical space would let them connect with their readers in a more tangible way, and they could sense that the neighbourhood was about to become a giant cultural hub. Today, both the publishing house’s offices and the book shop are smack in the middle of a seriously cool corner, surrounded by the Drake Commissary, Henderson Brewery and the new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
What makes the shop especially exciting for avid readers is that it’s attached to the publishing house, so it’s where the books are born and developed. Everything—including first encounter with the manuscript, art decisions, author meetings and final edits—takes place at their offices (printing is the only thing that’s done elsewhere). World-class authors regularly stop by for meetings, so when readers come in to peruse a novel by a certain writer, there’s a chance that writer may be right inside the office going over edits on their next piece of work. Oftentimes shoppers will even be interrupted in their browsing by a new delivery from the printer. When it comes to literary entertainment, it doesn’t get more local than that.
The space is also beautifully designed and is one of the dreamiest book shops in the city in which to spend an afternoon browsing titles. Anansi was one of the first organizations to set up shop in that cluster of heritage buildings on Sterling Road, taking over an undeveloped industrial space and renovating the inside to be as bright and open as possible. The building already had amazing exposed brick and beamed ceilings, so Anansi worked with award-winning firm MSDS (the same company responsible for the Shopify offices) to add some sleeker Scandinavian-influenced design elements, notably the stunning wavy wooden walls that were made just up the street by the Brothers Dressler. Now the shop is the ultimate in hygge, making shoppers want to curl up with their latest read on the dark green armchairs and never leave. Best of all, pets are always enthusiastically welcomed and will most likely be made to pose for an Instagram shot.
The contents of the shop attract all kinds of readers, from the fiercely academic to the ultra-artsy to those who treasure hardcovers for purely ornamental reasons. As such, there’s no better place to shop for perfectly unique holiday gifts—whether it’s a hot new best-seller or a quirky title that jumps off the shelves because you know your bestie will love it. Right now, popular titles include the new and expanded edition of Tessa and Scott, the story of the beloved ice-dancing pair’s journey, and Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words, a beautiful oversized book filled with nature-related words that are disappearing from dictionaries.
One of the main benefits of the space is the connection the readers feel to the publisher (and vice versa). Here, shoppers can actually get recommendations from staff who work at the house—a.k.a. those seriously up to date on their literary knowledge. Anyone in doubt about what to buy can always ask—and trust that the reads are totally vouched for. And their selection goes beyond books: one of their more popular regular offerings are broadsheets printed with a rotating selection of poems from their authors. Right now, shoppers can get their hands on a beautifully printed poem from Katherena Vermette’s latest collection, called river woman. These broadsheets make for powerful pieces of art and super-thoughtful house-warming presents.
For proud Junction residents, though, House of Anansi Press’s playful tote bags, which display their tongue-in-cheek slogan (“Anansi Publishes Very Good Books”), are the perfect weekend accessory for showing off your affinity for a quality read and support of a local business.
128 Sterling Rd., 416-363-4343, houseofanansi.com