When long-time friends and current neighbours Ashley Fortier and Oliver Fugler decided to launch a small, independent press back in 2015, they didn’t have specific goals in mind for the future. With a focus on producing quality materials relevant to queer, feminist, and social justice communities, the two co-publishers of Metonymy Press, who met back in 9th grade creative writing class, just knew that they wanted to fill a void in the local literary landscape, and reduce barriers for authors whose perspectives were often underrepresented.
This past May, when Lambda Literary announced its 29th annual list of finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards (also known as Lammys and considered one of the most glamorous LGBTQ literary events in the world), Metonymy was recognized with two nominations, both for best transgender fiction: Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang and Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom. On June 12th, Small Beauty walked away with a “Lammy”.
For a tiny Montreal two-person independent press to have two nominees chosen from nearly 900 submissions spanning 23 categories of LGBTQ literature, and to be recognized by one of the largest and most prestigious LGBTQ foundations so early in its inception is no small feat.
“Our explicit mandate is to produce quality literature by and for LGBTQ communities,” says Fugler. “Getting not one but two Lammy nominations, and then a win the first time we submit suggests we’re well on our way to doing that.”
Their successful entry into the world of publishing is no accident, however.
“We’re both long-standing members of the Queer Between the Covers book fair collective, which operates out of Montreal,” explains Fortier. “For many years, we were organizing the book fair each August and we developed a good sense of what the communities were looking for in terms of literature, who was producing that work, what was missing, that sort of thing.”
Both Fortier and Fugler credit the incredible power of the internet for allowing smaller publishing presses the opportunity to shine in a competitive market and to even out the playing field.
“When we found out that Small Beauty had won the Lambda Award, I think it was very well-deserved,” elaborates Fortier, “but also an incredible sense of accomplishment in terms of what a small project like ours can do to lift up emerging writers. When these two books were nominated they were up against Meredith Russo who had a big-name publisher in the U.S. and something like a $100,000 book advance. […] We’re doing really good work and [because of the internet] it is possible to be this small press and to make a fairly significant impact in queer and transgender literature.”
Both Fugler and Fortier emphasize that, as much as they value this kind of wide-reaching exposure, that they are appreciative of their local community that supports them daily.
“We’re not just producing books as a business and putting it out to strangers,” says Fortier. “We’re grounded in this community and there’s a lot of need and desire for these kinds of books to be out there.”
That community’s support and collaboration is incredibly important to them.
“Our designers have all been local, with a collaborative effort taking place between the authors, the designers and us” explains Fugler. “Most major publishers don’t really invite the author into that process because it can get messy, but it’s also really nice and we’re really happy with how the covers have ended up looking.”
“It’s important to us,” adds Fortier. “When you’re working in a context of supporting marginalized writers and artists, representation and how people self-represent is a huge deal. It’s vital for us that the authors feel that the covers are representative of who they are and that they feel good about what they’re putting out.”
Metonymy’s next project will be publishing the first Canadian edition of Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 by Halifax-born Trish Salah. The collection of lyric poetry was originally published in the US in 2014 by Roof Books.
“It’s an archive of sorts of trans histories and how trans people use them, but from an insider’s point of view; choosing to centralize people’s experiences,” says Fugler.
Another big project they’re working on involves people directly in the community, as they will be the ones (via an open call with an outside jury) choosing Metonymy’s the manuscript for its next project. The decision demonstrates a willingness to go beyond their two-person vision and allow them to collaborate with others in a temporary way.
Since the Lambda Awards nominations and win, they both maintain a healthy, grounded perspective.
“I’m not sure that the awards were necessarily what we were aiming for, but it’s totally amazing,” says Fortier. “We just want to grow along at a rate that is sustainable and is in line with our capacity,” she adds.
In the end, the success of Metonymy Press is the story of the little literary press that could.
“We didn’t start it as business people in any way,” says Fugler. “We just said ‘let’s try this thing and see what people want, but we had no focus groups whatsoever. Somehow, we managed to put the pieces together and it’s accomplishing what we had hoped for, which is amazing to us.
Fugler hesitates and then chuckles. “I think I’m a little bit stunned that it’s sort of all worked out.”
by TOULA DRIMONIS / Photos by LUKE ORLANDO