KAUFMAN, Brian




Author Tags: Publishing

In a society that condones soft-core porn on the shelves of every 7-Eleven, it’s perhaps worth noting that Canadian literature is still puritanical if it’s subsidized in any degree by the taxpayer. Twenty years ago, for instance, bill bissett’s infamous poem about ‘a warm place to shit’ caused a furour in parliament; Conservative politicians argued that descriptions of bodily functions were verboten if public funding was involved. Reform Party members later complained about Vancouver’s Molly Morin because a $1,500 grant had been used to help her complete a first chapbook called Where Did My Ass Go? It is increasingly permissible for well-paid movie actors to ‘push the envelope’ between the covers of a bed, but it remains inexcusable in some quarters for one underpaid writer to put the word ass on the cover of a book. As publisher of Anvil Press and sub-TERRAIN magazine, Brian Kaufman has steadfastly provided writers with the precious freedom to experiment whether funding bodies approve or not. The press was founded in 1992. To mark its 10th anniversary Kaufman planned to co-write The Three-Headed Moloch: A History of the 3-Day Novel Contest, with one of its co-founders, Tom Osborne, but it somehow never materialized. Similarly postponed but imminent is Kaufman's long-in-the-works collection of ‘renegade’ sub-TERRAIN writing for In the Trenches: The Best of sub-Terrain Magazine (Anvil $21.95), originally slated to appear in 2004. The spelling of SubTerrain was usually presented as Sub-TERRAIN prior to 2004.

In 2013, Brian Kaufman and Karen Green received the Jim Douglas Award as the outstanding publisher of the year from the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.

HERE FOLLOWS BRIAN KAUFMAN'S SUMMARY OF THE ORIGINS OF BOTH SUBTERRAIN MAGAZINE AND ANVIL PRESS, PRINTED IN THE AUTUMN 2011 EDITION OF BC BOOKWORLD UNDER THE HEADLINE: ANVIL ISLAND.

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It is impossible to talk about Anvil Press without first discussing subTerrain magazine, Anvil’s initial foray into publishing, its first raison d’etre. I foresaw that Anvil would one day publish books but I didn’t exactly know how or when that would happen. But for now, its mission would be to issue a small literary magazine into the world. It was the late 1980s, I had a little money from the one property sale I have ever made and was ready to quit my day job and put my money where my mouth was. I’d been to college, I’d read the rebels: Genet, Burroughs, Celine, Pinter, Artaud, Miller, Algren, Bukowski, Orwell, Beckett, Camus, Rimbaud, et al., and I craved a part of the literary life.

Short of running off to New York, San Francisco, Paris, or some perceived mecca of the literary world, I sought to find out if it existed right here, in Vancouver, in my own backyard, and was amazed to discover that it did! Sleepy old Vancouver had, it turned out, its own rather vast network of writers—and even publishers! And not just publishers that were interested in publishing some mainstream pap that might generate some real sales amongst middle-class consumers, but publishers that were intent on publishing serious socio-political work that addressed urgent issues relevant to the average working-class person.

After poking and prodding and scouring through bookstores (so many great ones that no longer exist)—Octopus East and Octopus West, Colophon Books, Duthie’s Cellar, Proprioception, William Hoffer—things started to surface. Odd and intriguing books that didn’t seem like they should be from here, but seemed to be part of that outer world I had been reading. I found a kinship in the works being issued from local houses like Talonbooks, New Star, Harbour, Pulp Press—especially Pulp. Slim volumes with searing titles like The Minimanual of an Urban Guerilla, The Destruction of Vancouver, Class Warfare—titles that oozed rebellion and demanded to be taken seriously. And all the great Canadian plays that Talon was publishing—George Ryga, Betty Lambert, George F. Walker—were landing in my hands. New Star and its lefty politics was also appealing to a young lad who had spent the majority of his years under the bewildering rule of the Social Credit party. Small mags (before they were called ’zines) like 3-Cent Pulp and Raincoast Chronicles embraced, respectively, the city I existed in and rugged coast that surrounded me. Both published a dialect that I recognized as distinctly here and of this region I was born and raised in.

In 1984, I was back at college ensconced in a Library Technician program (after failing at getting an actual job in the publishing industry, this was another attempt at finding a way to make a living in the world of books) while at night I started to write plays and short fiction, and began thinking about putting together a small magazine of varied writing. One evening during this time, while drinking pitchers of beer at The Jolly Alderman pub (which my research had told me writers and publishers do as much as writing and publishing!), Jon Furberg, one of my old profs (and author of several volumes of fine poetry) introduced me to another former student. Jon pointed across the table at Paul Pitre, cigarette in hand, and then pointed at me and said, “You two should meet.” We did. And then we drank more pitchers of sudsy beer, talked about poetry, and how we might go about putting a small literary magazine together.

This is well before the arrival of such professional sounding programs as The SFU Masters in Publishing Program or Douglas College’s Print Futures. This is still a time before personal, affordable layout programs like InDesign, QuarkXpress, or Pagemaker. Typesetting was still being done on large, expensive print-house equipment. Big hulking machines with names like “Compugraphic” spewed forth glossy sheets of type that we then cut into strips and physically “stripped” into place with a hot waxer on 11 x 17 grid-marked layout sheets. And one had to learn how to operate one of these things hands-on—so you had to know someone in a print shop or someone who actually worked for a real publishing company who was willing to engage in late-night covert typesetting jobs. At the time, I knew neither (those guys would come later!).

I was starting to hear about something called “desktop publishing,” which made me think of my dad’s old Gestetner hand-cranked printer that worked off a typewritten paper plate. That sounded like the sort of thing I needed. I investigated this new fangled thing and found myself coming into contact with Stephen Osborne, one of the guys behind Pulp Press. He was branching out into a new venture to provide training and affordable typesetting & layout services to the masses. I bought my first PC (a 286 box and monitor that took up most of my desk surface), signed up for a crash course in typesetting (appropriately called “Strong Sensitive Type”) that utilized the “new technology,” in this case a software package called Ventura Publisher that had been developed by the Xerox Corporation. And after five or six sessions, we were issued our “certificates” and were set loose on the world.

Issue #1 of subTerrain was not far off and appeared twenty-three years ago this August. Failing to have any great cover concepts of our own we slapped a detail from Pieter Brueghel’s Triumph of the Dead on the front panel of our inaugural effort. A story of mine, two from Alban Goulden (another past prof), another from Jennifer Sinclair, short pieces from Dirk Beck and Lawrence McCarthy, along with poems from Beth Jankola and jw curry rounded out the twelve-page debut. And just like that, knowing very little about editing, layout, typesetting, or the printing process, I had become a publisher! Contributors all received a handful of copies as payment. We mailed small bundles around the country to bookstores and magazine stalls with a consignment note, thinking payment would flow back in a few months. Some proprietors were wonderfully supportive, like James McIntosh of Colophon Books—in his wonderful second storey shop on Cordova in Gastown—always paid us outright for our wares. We hoofed copies all around town. Our delivery route started on the eastside, Commercial Drive, then along Venables and into town—Gastown, Granville, Robson Street. Then we headed over the bridge and west on Broadway, eventually to the westside and up Tenth Ave., back down Fourth Ave. towards town again, over the Granville Bridge to end up at The Yale Hotel in time for the Saturday afternoon blues jam session where we spent our proceeds on pints of ale and shooters of whisky. This, it was thought, would help us start envisioning issue #2.

With Issue #2, J. Lawrence McCarthy got more involved and brought to the mag a much needed design sense, and original cover art by Leslie Poole. We were also being forced to learn strange things about publishing a magazine: distribution, reaching a target audience, timelines, editorial calendars!

While putting issue 2 together I was entertaining ideas of publishing books as well as the magazine. I had always wanted to issue books but had no idea how I’d go about it. 1) where to find the authors, the good manuscripts? 2) How in hell to finance the endeavour? I ran into Rachel Mines, a friend from my Library Tech days and found out that she was pursuing her Masters in Linguistics. She told me about her dissertation and wondered if it might be appealing to a general readership. I told her to send it to me and I’d give it a read. It was titled A Toilet Paper: A Treatise On Four Fundamental Words Referring to Gaseous & Solid Wastes Together with Their Point of Origin. It was literary, scholarly, and—and most importantly—it was funny. Rachel’s quirky sense of humour came through on every page. This odd little title became Anvil’s first “book” even though it was only forty pages and didn’t fulfil the UNESCO official definition of a “book” (my how things change! What is the definition of a “book” in 2011?). It was, truly, more of a pamphlet, saddle-stitched with historical illustrations provided by the wonderful world of the Public Domain. We took it along on our next round of mag distribution and local sellers were, for the most part, supportive. They were alternately humoured or aghast by the content of the pamphlet. We moved a goodly number through the independents and managed to break even on our printing and mailing costs.

Around this time I was writing plays and trying to get them produced. Dark Horse Theatre had a call out for one-act plays. The selected plays would receive a professional workshop and a staged reading at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. I submitted a play I was working on, Fragments from the Big Piece, and it was selected as one of four plays to receive development. Another playwright, Dennis E. Bolen, had a play, Wagen, selected as well. It turned out that Dennis was also a writer of fiction, and had a novel that he’d been sending around to publishers and wasn’t having much luck getting it accepted for publication. I said I’d take a look; maybe Anvil could publish it. I showed him the mag, and he loved it; he was excited and became involved immediately. Issue #3 featured an excerpt from Stupid Crimes, his excellent novel-in-waiting.

Lawrence and I were also getting more work doing commercial design work—layout and typesetting mostly—and my kitchen table wasn’t really cutting it as a workspace. We needed a real office and found it in the ’hood at 2414 Main Street (the pie wedge building at the intersection of Kingsway & Main). We paid $300.00 a month and three of us—myself, Dennis & Lawrence—pitched in a hundred bucks each and we were away. We were “legit” and hung out our shingle out: Anvil Press Publishers: Desktop & Graphic Design.

The next book (and first to be perfect-bound) was Stupid Crimes. We had to do a good deal of commercial work (posters, brochures, programs, publications) to bankroll our first trade paperback edition. Even then, we still had to bolster the coffers with our own personal investment. The cover: an evening shot in front of Uptown Barbers (that’s me and Dennis) suggesting a drug deal or a parolee and his parole officer. All noir and urban grit (photo by J. Lawrence), the design employed black, white, and a slash of red. Thank god we didn’t think we could afford a full-colour cover. The image was perfect for the content: a hard-drinking, hopelessly romantic, over-worked parole officer tries to guide his hapless charges toward a life without crime.

We mailed off review copies and worked with our first small distributor (Marginal Distribution) and waited. Now what? Would the stores order more copies as the ones they had flew off the shelves? Would the big cheques start rolling in? Well, not quite. But Stupid Crimes did do well. It had, as they say in the trade, “legs.” It received positive reviews across the country and we even managed to land a rave in the Globe & Mail. And we soon found out that national coverage makes a difference! We noticed a spike in orders and a spike in sales. An upstart crow from B.C. was making some noise. It felt good; it made us think that publishing was easy. Ha! We had much to learn about an industry that was about to be hit by a recession and the arrival of big box corporate retailing. We basked in our naïve optimism, but that wouldn’t last for long.

I couldn’t have started a publishing company at a worse time (unless I was starting right now!). The recession of the early ’90s was in full swing and there was no surplus of funding dollars for new publishers (we published for six years before receiving our first BC Arts Council grant for Mark Leiren-Young’s Shylock, and struggled, somehow, through these difficult years. The Canada Council’s “Support for Emerging Publishers Program” didn’t yet exist (I was told later that this program came into being due to cases like Anvil—we were putting out good books but there just wasn’t any money to help) and we didn’t yet meet the criteria for the Block Grant program. We had to proceed on a book-by-book basis, submitting for project assistance when eligible.

Around the same time, the late Bruce Serafin launched the original VR (Vancouver Review), a fresh breath of wonderfully cranky air, which seemed to be in line with our own aesthetic—the politeness of most Canadian literary magazines and journals did not encourage, but rather stifled, creative discourse. Bruce put me onto the work of Grant Buday, said he was writing great stories, kind of a cross between Bukowski and Dickens. We published his Vancouver story collection, Monday Night Man (in their rejection of this title, jurors said: Grant Buday is a good writer but this is not a good book). Monday Night Man went on to be a Finalist in the City of Vancouver Book Awards. We later published Grant’s outstanding Vancouver labour novel, White Lung (also a City of Vancouver Book Award Finalist).

The magazine was attracting more writers and friends willing to help out with the endlessly inexhaustible slush pile, proofing, and writing rejection & acceptance letters. People like Isabella Legosi Mori, Angela Rhodes McIntyre, and Heidi Greco—three fine poets whose work comprised the volume Siren Tattoo: A Triptych. Another writer from this period was Bud Osborn. We published his debut collection, Lonesome Monsters, (unless you count Black Azure, a rarity printed up by a friend who worked at Coach House Books in Toronto). Bud’s work came at us like a scream from the cellar. His stories of addiction, poverty, and family violence were like raw nerve wires snapping and zapping all your senses at once. Publishing Bud would start a long-time commitment to publishing books about and by residents of the Downtown Eastside, work that dealt with the grittier aspects of our city of glass.

Others that would follow in this loose “Vancouver Series” would be Bart Campbell’s The Door Is Open (about his years spent working in a Downtown Eastside soup kitchen), Lincoln Clarkes’ Heroines photographs that documented the plight of hundreds of marginalized and drug addicted women of the DTES from the late ’80s to the mid-1990s, Michael Barnholden’s history of Vancouver riots, Reading the Riot Act; Eve Lazarus’s At Home with History (finalist in the Vancouver Books Awards); Signs of the Times, a print and poetry collaboration between Bud Osborn and Strathcona printmaker & muralist Richard Tetrault, and, most recently, Gabor Gazstonyi’s A Room In the City, intimate and emotionally stirring portraits of residents of five DTES single-room occupancy hotels.

And I think these titles stand to exemplify what Anvil came to be known as, a publisher of works not so much from the academy but from the street. Not to say that our books don’t have much to offer the curriculums of “higher learning” (and many are now on course lists) but that the writers we tend to publish write out of life experience and not so much from schools of thought or theory (less dogma and more of the real meal deal). So the tales they tell tend to be more immediate, palpable, more there in front of you, pulsing and expectant than residing up in your head. Books like Salvage King, Ya! by Mark Anthony Jarman, Stolen by Annette Lapointe (Giller nominee), and Animal, stories by Alexandra Leggat (Trillium Prize Finalist)—and many, many others that I can’t list here—make me proud to have been given the privilege to find a vocation in the world of literary publishing.

PHOTO: Derek von Essen

[BCBW 2011] "Publishing"

3-Day Novel Contest
Press Release (2003)



The 3-Day Novel Contest originated in 1977 with Pulp Press (now Arsenal Pulp Press) of Vancouver, who administered the contest for a full 15 years. By 1992 the editors, now somewhat older and somewhat weary of the formidable task presented by the 3-day novel contest were thinking of calling it quits. That's when we here at Anvil—then a neophyte publisher—volunteered to adopt the beast and foster it into adulthood. That we did.

The future of the 3-Day Novel Contest now rests in the hands of a dynamic group of writers and editors who are committed to taking the wooly beast another step forward. Contact them at (www.3daynovel.com). Please click the link to their website and become part of the growing legacy of one of the world's most notorious and original literary competitions.

We thank all of you who entered the contest over the years, and helped make the 3-Day Novel Contest such an exhilarating experience for all of us here at Anvil. We hope you take time to peruse our other fine literary titles, and revisit our site periodically to see what's new. All the best to all of you!



Twenty years of outlaw literature!
Press Release (2008)



Vancouver – Vancouver’s literary magazine subTerrain turns 20 this summer—and will publish its 50th issue! Since 1988, subTerrain magazine has showcased fiction, non-fiction, poetry, social commentary, photography, and visual art from outside the literary and cultural status quo. subTerrain has featured some of Canada’s hottest new writers such as Nadia Bozak and Craig Davidson whose subTerrain stories were finalists for the coveted Journey Prize. subTerrain has featured visual art from such diverse artists as Maurice Spira, and Lucas Soi, photographers Michael Levin, Esther Rausenberg, and Mike Grill. Twenty years in and subTerrain magazine continues to bring provocative writing and visual art from outside the margins to readers coast to coast and beyond.

Founder and editor Brian Kaufman launched subTerrain back in 1988 as an antidote to a lacklustre local literary scene. Says Kaufman, “It was still dragging itself out of its post-colonial roots and the gate-keepers of what was considered to be ‘good literature’ were exhausting their tenured positions and gasping around the halls of academia (where, by the way, the majority of literary journals sprung forth) heavily influencing what would be allowed to enter the Canadian canon.“ Kaufman published the first issue from his apartment. “I wanted something that had an edge, a bit of grit, a magazine that incorporated visuals as an integral part of its being … something that had a feel of being ‘underground’—thus the play on that with the title.”

The first issue of subTerrain had eight contributors to fill 12 pages! “To set the tone,” says Kaufman, “we slapped a detail from Pieter Brueghel’s ‘Triumph of the Dead’ on the cover. A horrific, apocalyptic image of sword-wielding skeletons decapitating the living, herding them into large, boxcar containers, the dead and dying have been impaled on pinwheels and await their fate from scavenger birds, fires smouldering on the horizon … wow. A revolution in literature? That would be nice. …”

Over the years, subTerrain has received the Graphic Designers of Canada Merit award for photography design, has received several other awards and nominations, e.g. the Journey Prize, the Western Magazine Awards, The National Magazine Awards, Utne Reader Independent Press Awards, etc., and has seen many of the emerging authors it has published go on to major publishing contracts.

On Canada’s current literary scene Kaufman states, “What has happened over the last two decades is attrition of the old guard and the arrival of a new generation of writers and editors who have been willing to take chances and support somewhat more experimental writers, and the incorporation of more graphic elements has definitely been seen.”

subTerrain magazine’s 50th issue comes out this summer and, in celebration of the magazine’s birthday, features works inspired by BC’s motto: “The Best Place on Earth.”

subTerrain is published by the subTerrain Literary Collective Society, a volunteer collective of writers and editors.


Anvil Press Receives Jim Douglas Award
Press Release (2013)



Vancouver-BC - Crammed into a tiny office on East First Avenue in Vancouver is a small press with an unflinching vision: to publish contemporary Canadian literature with a decidedly urban sensibility. One could say that Anvil Press is representative of the shift BC publishing has taken over the last two decades away from its roots in pioneer stories, First Nations culture and BC history to publishing that is edgy and commanding, national in scope as well as vital to the British Columbia experience.

Founded in 1990 by Brian Kaufman, Anvil Press has produced important books such as: Vancouver Noir: Vancouver 1930-1960, Afflictions & Departures, Stolen, A Room in the City: Photographs by Gabor Gasztonyi, Exit, and Heroines. These titles and more have been nominated for prestigious awards including the Giller, Canada’s most influential fiction prize; the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, our largest literary non-fiction prize; a Governor General’s Award for translation; the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction; the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature; the Acorn-Plantos Award for poetry, and just this year the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award in Manitoba.

Anvil Press titles have also won the City of Victoria Butler Prize, the City of Vancouver Book Award, a 2011 ReLit Award (short fiction category), and more.

With only three staff persons, Anvil, a press known for its quality books and unconventional literary work, produces ten to twelve titles a year, several making bookstore and regional bestseller lists. In the 90s they managed to also run and then publish the winners of the 3-Day Novel contest. One of those titles, Small Apartments, has just been released with prominent actors such as Billy Crystal in the cast.

The team lead by Kaufman also produces the literary magazine, subTerrain, whose byline, Strong Words for a Polite Nation, lays out their literary intention. National and local in its vision, Anvil remains committed to its East Vancouver roots, and doesn’t shy away from work from the wrong side of the tracks: it’s a formula that is working for them and for our regional and national literature.

Abundantly energetic and deeply committed to Canada’s literature, Brian Kaufman is a daring publisher who it is our honour to recognize. Brian will accept the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award at the Association of Book Publishers of BC Awards Dinner on April 18th, 2013.

The Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award is presented as deserved to an active BC book publishing company that has, in recent times, earned the respect and applause of the community
of publishers for a specific publishing project, an extraordinary contribution to the BC publishing community, and/or its extended commitment to excellence in publishing. Jim Douglas was founder of J. J. Douglas Publishers, which became Douglas & McIntyre.

Campbell Award Presentation
Speech (2013)



Remarks made by Karl Siegler prior to presentation of Gray Campbell Award to Anvil Press in 2013:

It’s my birthday today—as well as Howie White’s—so I was absolutely thrilled when Margaret Reynolds [ABPBC executive director] ask me to present this year’s winner of the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award. I can’t think of a better birthday present than the opportunity to present this award to my old friend Brian Kaufman.
There’s been an apocryphal story about the origins of Anvil floating about in the industry for over two decades, and its most avid raconteur is none other than Brian Kaufman himself. His favorite part of the story starts with his trudge up the long steep staircase at the former Talon[books] offices on Cordova Street, at the top of which he encountered the company’s most formidable employee of all time, Mary Schendlinger, whom he asked politely if he might have an interview with Karl Siegler about a possible job.
“Karl Siegler is far to busy to see anyone about a job,” Mary announced with an imperious air only slightly tinged with sympathetic regret, sending Brian back down that long lonely staircase of frustrated ambition.
Back out on the street in East Vancouver, jobsite of the Heroines to whom he would later pay homage with the critically acclaimed book by Lincoln Clarkes, Brian Kaufman resolved that if he couldn’t get a job at either Pulp, (which he’d already tried), or Talon, he’d bloody well start his own literary press! And the rest, as they say, is history. But it’s a fascinating history, so it’s worth a short commentary.
Three skills Brian acquired in his younger years were essential to developing the toolkit that makes Anvil the successful publisher it is today: the first was making deliveries and collecting accounts for his father’s successful meat business; the second was a stint at a local print shop where he developed his fastidious eye for typographical design, (the only subject on which he has ever been known to raise his voice in the office—[I got that one from Tom Osborn]); and the third was his apprenticeship as a playwright.
Despite his former completely unfounded prejudices concerning the role of the petit bourgeoisie in our nation of hewers of wood and drawers of water, it didn’t take long for Anvil’s publisher to discover that the key to success in any business, including the book business, is to make the transition from the delivery of its goods to the subsequent collection of its accounts as efficient as possible. That’s one of the two reasons why Anvil continues to thrive.
The second reason for Anvil’s continuing success is that it knows, understands and focuses on its niche market extremely well—in this case, readers who couldn’t give a damn about being either fashionably or politically correct in our increasingly urbanized global village, and are actually on the lookout for “strong words for a polite nation,” a byline that defines Anvil’s uncompromising literary list-building as accurately as it does the editorial mission of the book publisher’s progenitor: subTerrain magazine.
Nothing illustrates this more clearly than Anvil’s very first book: A Toilet Paper—a perfect synthesis of strong subject matter and the polite location where so much of our reading activity actually takes place.
Don’t laugh. I learned a great deal from this book, an excerpt from a doctoral dissertation in linguistics—the Indo-European roots of the four fundamental words it discusses, for example, and therefore their cultural antiquity, ubiquity and historicity that most dictionaries, interestingly enough, didn’t begin to suppress until the oh-so-politically-correct nineteenth century of European colonialism. Another is the fact that Shakespeare, despite his reputation for ribaldry, was actually far more of a prude than Chaucer, the father of the English language.
And of course, let’s not forget the old adage that the purpose of all great literature is to teach and delight. And the greatest delight Anvil’s first literary publication has to offer is not the reader’s utterly predictable tittering over the naughty words it contains, but its almost endless string of ever-more-clever puns on the fundamental subject so carefully crafted into its expository prose.
From such an auspicious beginning, Anvil has evolved into a cutting edge literary press, now publishing a dozen well reviewed, critically acclaimed, and often award winning titles annually in all genres, including even the occasional book by a foreign author, and is actually carving out an internationally recognizable brand for itself.
It must be said in conclusion that the edifying purity and daring of the publisher’s mandate and literary list building has certainly attracted Anvil’s share of loyal, dedicated and committed employees—most recently the author Jenn Farrell, who has left the press to pursue her budding career as a writer, and Karen Green, diligent scholar of religion and communications; now a partner in Anvil; and the current chair of the Literary Press Group of Canada.
So ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I wish to call upon Brian Kaufman to accept the Jim Douglas Award on behalf of Anvil Press!