TORONTO – Former Maclean’s publisher and National Post founding editor Ken Whyte says his new non-fiction publishing house will strive for several things: intelligence, integrity and truthfulness.
“I don’t see how anyone can want anything but to be diverse in a country like Canada because it’s an incredibly diverse population by any international standard,” says Whyte, who last summer stirred controversy by tweeting about cultural appropriation.
“If you can’t handle a diverse range of authors and a diverse range of subjects for a diverse range of audiences, you’re really limited in Canada.”
Whyte rankled many last year by suggesting he would help fund an “appropriation prize” after Hal Niedzviecki penned an editorial in the Writers’ Union of Canada magazine saying he didn’t believe in cultural appropriation.
That ignited a social media storm in which marginalized writers condemned the article. Niedzviecki resigned from the magazine.
Whyte says he’s mindful of the need to reflect various voices, but now that he helms his own press that doesn’t mean he’ll seek representation by a particular gender or race.
“I have no formulas and I don’t intend to have any. I am reaching out to people I respect as writers regardless of any quotas or forced diversity and I just trust that the materials that come in and that I’ll be able to produce will reflect a good diversity of people and ideas.”
The Toronto-based Sutherland House will specialize in literary non-fiction and begin producing books in 2019.
Four projects are already signed up, including: “We, The Meeple,” an examination of culture, history, society and relationships through the medium of board games by former Walrus editor Jonathan Kay and board game expert Jonathan Moriarity; and “Perfect City,” a guided tour of the world’s great cities by the noted urban strategist, Joe Berridge.
Whyte says he’s interested in biography, memoir, history, current affairs and business matters.
The former newspaperman says he expects it will fill a void in journalism today.
“There aren’t as many magazines that run long-form journalism as there used to be and newspapers tend not to invest in long-form journalism the way they used to so your ability to go really deep on a subject is constrained,” says Whyte, former president of Rogers Publishing Inc., as well as former editor-in-chief of Saturday Night magazine.
The new company is also acquiring the artisanal publisher Porcupine’s Quill Inc. as an imprint, with Whyte serving as contributing editor. The deal closes June 1.
Whyte says the indie press will continue to operate in Erin, Ont. under its founder Tim Inkster and his partner, Elke.
He acknowledges that the publishing industry has changed dramatically in recent years.
“It’s certainly a more precarious market that you’re publishing into now than it was before. There’s good and bad in that. We had the example of (publisher Book*hug) pulling a book because of perceived insensitivity to the subjects of the poetry,” he says, referring to a small press that removed a poetry collection from sale after Inuk activist Delilah Saunders complained it included graphic details of her sister Loretta’s murder.
“And at the same time we have probably our leading controversialist Jordan Peterson with (a bestseller).”
But he says the role of the publisher has not changed.
“You want to produce good, honest books of high-quality that are meaningful to their readers and some of them will be controversial, some won’t. I think the important thing is to keep your eye on what you consider to be of lasting value in a book.”
The Sutherland House is accepting submissions of book proposals and manuscripts.