Add Dagger Editions to Your Isolation Reading List

By Rachel Rosenberg

Halfmoon Bay is a small community near Vancouver on the Sunshine Coast, with beautiful coastline views and a thriving artistic centre. This idyllic locale is home of Caitlin Press and its Dagger Editions imprint, dedicated to queer women voices, available for order online with delivery through local bookstores; Spartacus Books, Massey Books and Pulp Fiction.

Caitlin Press was founded in the 1970s, originally as a feminist press. It’s mandate widened in the 1980s (focusing on being a BC press), but has continued to prioritize publishing women’s literature.

Current owner Vici Johnstone worked in publishing for five years before buying the company. When I asked how she came to own it, she said, “I was working for Harbour Publishing. The previous owner, Cynthia Wilson, had suddenly passed and Howard White, Publisher of Harbour (and Cynthia’s brother) was named executor of her estate. I convinced Howard to sell me the press, as I was interested in publishing women’s stories and in specific the stories of BC women.”

I asked how she came about creating Dagger Editions, and she said, “I came out in 1977. I grew up in East Vancouver, in a time when being queer was neither safe nor accepted. I found my home and community when I discovered Little Sisters. In those days they had a very rich collection of new and used books. I spent hours poking through their book shelves, sitting on the floor and reading passages of books that I would eventually buy and covet. Through reading I came to learn, accept, and be proud of who I was.”

Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, as many local LGBTQ+ people know, is a legendary queer space in Vancouver’s Davie Village. Originally a bookstore, it’s famous for its 1990s legal battle with the Canada Border Services Agency. However, as online book buying became the norm, their book stock has reduced and been replaced with Pride memorabilia and adult items. This change, according to Johnstone, is what inspired her to create Dagger. “In early 2015, I visited Little Sisters and was distressed to find that the books’ shelves were reduced to one small rack…When I spoke with the manager, he told me that, other then books being published by Arsenal Pulp Press, it was hard to find books by Canadian queers, much less by or about Canadian queer women. I left the store that day with the beginning of an idea, the idea that Canada needed a press dedicated to queer women.

It didn’t take long for Johnstone to put her idea into motion. “In spring 2016, we launched to a packed room of two hundred cheering queers, with readings by Betsy Warland, Nicola Harwood, Jane Eaton Hamilton, [and others]. It has been a slow and steady journey, but year by year we are growing the list of queer women’s poetry, memoir and non-fiction in the Canadian publishing landscape.”

If you’d like to dive into Dagger Editions’ backlist, here are five Vancouver-based authors you can start with.

Sara Graefe

Sara Graefe | Image credit: Adetiba Yung

Sara Graefe is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and the editor of Swelling with Pride: Queer Conception and Adoption Stories . As former publications coordinator for BC’s Society of Special Needs Adoptive Parents, she authored the bestselling Living With FASD: A Guide for Parents and edited the Adoption Piece by Piece trilogy (Groundwork Press). She’s also a queer mommy blogger and describes her experiences at Gay Girls Make Great Moms. You can also find her work in various magazines and anthologies, including Boobs: Women Explore What it Means to Have Breasts (Caitlin Press) and A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships (Lambda Literary Award 2015 finalist ).

Onjana Yawnghwe

Onjana Yawnghwe

Born in Thailand, Onjana Yawnghwe  is from the Shan people in Burma. She grew up in Vancouver and received an MA in English from UBC. Her latest book of poetry, The Small Way, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and her poems have been featured in many anthologies and journals, including CV2 and Room. Her first poetry book, Fragments, Desire, was published by Oolichan Books in 2017.

 

 

Monica Meneghetti

Monica Meneghetti

Monica Meneghetti’s first book,  What the Mouth Wants: A Memoir of Food, Love and Belonging was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and tied for the winning spot in the Bi Book Award. Her literary star is definitely on the rise and the book has been included in American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow’s 2018 Recommended Book List; Autostraddle’s 8 Soft Femme Memoirs; CBC Books’ Must-reads of 2017, and their 14 Books to Read for Pride. Meneghetti is constantly writing and her poetry, fiction and nonfiction appear in print, online, in musical scores, and on stage.

 

Betsy Warland

Betsy Warland

Betsy Warland is an editor, writer, and mentor who helped launch Dagger Editions with Oscar of Between. As an author, Warland has published thirteen books of poetry, creative nonfiction, and lyric prose. Warland also regularly provides services as a mentor, teacher, manuscript consultant and editor: as the director of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive; the co-founder of the national Creative Writing Nonfiction Collective; an establishing force behind The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University.  Lost Lagoon/lost in thought is Warland’s most recent book and will be published in March 2020 with Caitlin Press.

 

Nicola Harwood

Nicola Harwood

Nicola Harwood is the author of the memoir Flight Instructions for the Commitment Impaired. She describes her work as “often concerned with the hidden histories of places, women and queers”, writing and creating interdisciplinary art. Her plays and performance and installation projects have been produced in various cities throughout Canada, Europe and the US and she is currently developing an AI trading bot alongside artists Karin Lee, Russel Wallace, Jai Phillips and a computer scientist, Pablo Doboue.

 

 

 

Rachel Rosenberg is a writer and library technician who is a proud member of the LGBTQ2+ community. She writes for Book Riot and can be found on Twitter @LibraryRachelR

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