Throughout her nearly 50-year career, publisher and author Anna Porter has made it her mission to ensure that Canadian stories are told.
From publishing the likes of Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowat, and Margaret Laurence, to her work with publishing giant Jack McClelland, Porter has left an indelible mark on the literary landscape of Canada, cultivating and supporting some this country’s most iconic writers.
Recently, Porter was in Hamilton to tell some stories of her own. At an event hosted by McMaster University Library in downtown Hamilton, Porter shared tales from her new memoir, In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time.
“A country without literature and without history is not a country, it’s a collection of disparate people who happen to inhabit the same space,” said Porter, who was interviewed on-stage by Sarah Roger, an adjunct professor in McMaster’s Department of English and Cultural Studies, and who spoke about both her passion for Canadian literature and her prolific career as one of the country’s most influential publishers.
She described her time at publishing powerhouse, McClelland & Stewart – where she worked throughout the 1970s, eventually serving as President and Editor-in-Chief, and spoke about what it was like to work with her mentor Jack McClelland, whom she described as, “the best publisher this country has ever had.”
She also talked about the founding of her publishing house Key Porter Books in 1982 and what it was like to be one of the very few women to rise to the top of the publishing world at that time. As well, she shared her great love of poetry, reading aloud selections by one of her favourite Canadian poets, Al Purdy.
Porter, who donated her personal archives to McMaster in 2010 and is the author of several celebrated books of both fiction and non-fiction, also spoke about the writing process and how in order to recall many of the events recounted in her memoir, she spent time in McMaster’sWilliam Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections, sifting through the correspondence, news clippings and other materials in her collection.
“I was very lucky that my archives are here at McMaster – they are full of things that brought back memories,” said Porter, who also looked at materials from the archives of Jack McClelland, Margaret Laurence, Sylvia Fraser and Pierre Berton, all contained in McMaster’s extensive Canadian literature and publishing collections. “It was hours and hours and hours of work, but it really helped. I think the archives here are the best in the country.”
“Anna’s story is really the story of Canadian literature and publishing,” says McMaster University Librarian, Vivian Lewis. “She played a singular role in the creation of something extraordinary – the birth of Canadian literature as a distinct genre. We are proud to be the custodians of Anna’s archives which sit alongside those of many of the celebrated authors she supported and who have come to define Canadian literary culture.”
Porter is the author of several acclaimed books, including Kasztner’s Train:The True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust,which was awarded the Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prizeand the Canadian Jewish Book Award, and The Ghosts of Europe, which received the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, as well as a recipient of the Order of Ontario.
McMaster is also home to the archives of a number of acclaimed Canadian writers including Farley Mowat, Stuart McLean, Austin Clarke, Matt Cohen, Terry Fallis, and Peter C. Newman, as well as Canadian publishers McClelland & Stewart, Key Porter Books, Macmillan Canada and Clarke Irwin.