Small, Independent Arsenal Pulp Press Publishes the Big Voices of Communities

A snapshot of some of the Arsenal Pulp Press books I own / Photo by Casey Stepaniuk

By Casey Stepaniuk

Chances are, if you’ve read a great queer book recently—especially one by a Canadian author—it was published by Vancouver’s own Arsenal Pulp Press. Some fiction and poetry writers you might be familiar with that Arsenal Pulp Press has published include Ivan Coyote, Sarah Schulman, Vivek Shraya, Ashley Little, Amber Dawn, and more! You might also have come across one of their great cookbooks, like Decolonize Your Diet (about vegetarian Mexican-American food) and multiple vegan cookbooks including ones by Dreena Burton and Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer.

So, who is Arsenal Pulp Press and what else do they do? Remarkably, they have only a full-time staff of five (!!) who work out of their office in Chinatown. They currently have over 300 titles in print, ranging from the LGBTQ+ fiction and cookbooks I’ve already mentioned to cultural and gender studies, literature by writers of colour, graphic novels, visual arts, and books in translation. Every year they publish between 14 and 20 new books, some of which you’ve already heard me write about in a few posts from last year.

This small independent press that puts out some of North America’s best queer writers has a history going back to 1971. It began its life as Pulp Press Book Publishers, formed by a collective of university students, in response to the “academic literary pretensions of Canadian literature at the time.” Like some of their current offerings, in the 70s the press published a lot of gritty urban Vancouver fiction writers, poets, and playwrights. They also initiated the 3-Day Novel Contest, a writing contest that is exactly what it sounds like and is now run by the 3-Day Novel Contest Ltd. (Arsenal continues to publish the winners of the contest.)

Check the Spines of Your Favourite Books for Arsenal’s Logo / Image via ampersand inc.

In 1982, the press took on the name that we know it by today, and began to get into the areas of cultural, gender, and multicultural studies. LGBTQ+ books became one of their focuses in the 90s, spearheaded by the publication in 1993 of Queeries, edited by Dennis Denisoff. It was the first book of gay male prose ever published in Canada. Throughout the 90s and 2000s they continued to publish ground-breaking queer Canadian books, including erotica and fiction anthologies.

One of my favourite things Arsenal has done for LGBTQ+ books is the Little Sister’s Classic series they started in 2005, named in honour of and in conjunction with Vancouver’s iconic gay bookstore on Davie Street. This series resurrects classic LGBTQ+ books and introduces them to a whole new generation of readers. The books include Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller, a classic novel of lesbian love in 19th century New England first published in 1969 and west coast Canadian lesbian writer legend Jane Rule’s The Young in One Another’s Arms.

I can’t even decide which Arsenal book I want to read next! I’ve got Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide and The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care edited by Zena Sharman lined up on my to-be-read list. Readers, any thoughts?

Check out Arsenal Pulp Press’s About page for more information on their history, and have a look at their rad new titles and bestsellers. You should also definitely check out their fun and interesting blog.

Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian-in-training who runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find LGBTQ+ Canadian book reviews and a queer book advice column. She also writes for Book Riot. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian

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