MCCONNELL, William




Author Tags: Fiction, Publishing

While Gray Campbell has been acknowledged as one of the first trade publishers of the modern era in British Columbia, recognition for William McConnell as the first 'literary publisher' of that era has been slight. McConnell, a lawyer by profession, co-founded B.C.'s first ongoing literary press, Klanak Press, in 1957, with his wife Alice McConnell, and he also became one of the founders of the UBC-based literary magazine Prism. Klanak is a Coast Salish word meaning 'a gathering for good talk.' It first published a collection of poems by Marya Fiamengo, The Quality of Halves, in 1958, followed by a short story collection, Klanak Islands, featuring the first published fiction by Jane Rule, along with stories by Robert Harlow, Henry Kriesel, Raymond Hull, Alice McConnell, Margaret Mills, Marion Smith and McConnell himself. The books were especially well-designed, mostly by Takao Tanabe, and were printed by Charles Morriss of Morriss Printing in Victoria. Illustrators included Don Jarvis, Bob Steele and Ben Lim. The press became in inactive in 1990.

Born in Vancouver on February 12, 1917, William McConnell was one of six children. His father was a hospital administrator and his mother was a Registered Nurse. He grew up on the east side of Vancouver. He published his first story at age 20 as a member of the 'Bath House Group' which met to discuss literature informally at English Bay and to read unpublished typescripts of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. In the process McConnell became closely acquainted with Earle Birney and Dorothy Livesay. McConnell rode the rails during the Depression and rose from private to sergeant in the Canadian Army during World War II. Demobilized in 1945, he entered UBC and graduated from the fledgling UBC Law School in 1949. With his wife Alice, he became active in the informal literary evenings of 'Authors Anonymous', often meeting at the home of Ethel Wilson. McConnell was a central figure in the Vancouver literary firmament, introducing Margaret Laurence to Earle Birney, for example. The McConnells often visited Malcolm and Margerie Lowry in Dollarton in North Vancouver, and William McConnell frequently advised Lowry on legal matters. Some of McConnell's memories of the Lowrys are contained in A Darkness That Murmured: Essays on Malcolm Lowry and the Twentieth Century, edited by Frederick Asals & Paul Tiessen (University of Toronto Press, 2000). Lowry's novel October Ferry to Gabriola is dedicated to him, partly because it was McConnell who suggested to 'Malc' that he might find a suitable alternative to living in Deep Cove on Gabriola Island.

After McConnell's wife died in 1982, he began to revive his own writing pursuits in 1984. Carole Gerson included one of McConnell's early stories called 'Love in the Park', set primarily in Tatlow Park in Vancouver, within her anthology called Vancouver Short Stories (UBC Press, 1985). B.C. lawyer and book reviewer Thomas Woods edited a collection of McConnell's short stories, Raise No Memorial (Orca Books, 1989), with cover art from Jack Shadbolt, in 1989. It was McConnell's first and only book. He had retired from law practice and was living in West Vancouver at the time. "Klanak was a labour of love for McConnell and his wife Alice," wrote Woods. "He took time away from his law practice and his own writing to give many presently successful writers the benefit of his criticism, and in some cases, a first appearance in print. Needless to say, Klanak titles are, today, very collectable, forming as they do, an essential element of British Columbia's, and Canada's, literary and artistic heritage."

The William McConnell archive of papers at UBC Special Collections "consists of correspondence between Margerie and Malcolm Lowry and William and Alice McConnell (1957-1983) relating to their mutual interests, as well as clippings and articles about Malcolm Lowry collected by the McConnells. The fonds also includes 62 letters between Allan Crawley and William McConnell relating to Crawley's activities (1945-1970). Included also are comments on the Crawley letters by W. McConnell (1985) and a typescript of a short story by McConnell."

BOOKS:

Raise No Memorial (Orca Books, 1989). Edited by Thomas Woods.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Publishing" "Fiction" "Lowry"

The Alcuin Society
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The Vancouver-based Alcuin Society promotes printing as a fine art and celebrates book design work in Canada. It was co-founded by Basil Stuart-Stubbs, Bill Duthie, Sam Black, Bill McConnell, Dale Smith, Sam Fogel and Wil Hudson--inspired by Geoff Spencer's idea. It takes its name from Charlemagne's unofficial 'minister of culture', Alcuin of York (735-804), who selected the most legible script of his times, known as Caroline Miniscule. This led to the standardization of our modern lower-case alphabet. The Society sponsors national awards for book design, generally favouring refined and subtle work over book jackets that are commercially viable--much to the dismay of some. The Alcuin Society also publishes a quarterly newsletter Amphora that appears in March, June, September and December.