SMITH, Cherie

Author Tags: Jewish, Publishing

Cherie Smith founded November House, one of the original imprints that comprised the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia when it was founded in the early 1970s. The inaugural meeting was held in her home. She later founded the Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver in the 1980s, serving as its chairperson and ongoing inspiration. Intimately concerned with Jewish history, Smith's motivations were primarily literary rather than religious.

Born in Saskatchewan, she moved to Vancouver to attend UBC where she became a founding member of PRISM International, a long-lived literary publication. She first worked in publishing as an editor. She started November House to publish both fiction and non-fiction, including the first books by Allan Fotheringham and Barry Broadfoot in 1972, after she was approached as a literary agent by Jake Zilber of the University of British Columbia's Department of Creative Writing in 1969. Zilber sought her advice with regards to manuscript written by a student, Penticton-born Bill O'Brien, and Smith decided to publish the novel herself as Summer of the Black Sun (November House, 1969).

She wrote three books herself including Mendel's Children: A Family Chronicle (University of Calgary Press, 1997), the story of her own Russian-Jewish immigrant family over four generations, including its immigration to the Prairies from the shtetles of Poland and Latvia in the 1890s. She also co-wrote a children's book with her granddaughter and gathered a collection of sayings and quotations shortly before her death, Such Spoke the Maven. She died in July of 1999. An endowment fund has been established in her name to ensure the longevity of the festival, plus her name has been attached to the festival itself following her death. Cherie Smith also created several other scholarships and endowments for literarture and Jewish history in British Columbia.

[BCBW 2006] "Jewish" "Publishing"

Mendel's Children: A Family Chronicle
Publisher's promotional copy

"Through a unique combination of biography, memoir, and autobiography, Cherie Smith traces four generations of her immigrant family and, in doing so, charts the very course of Russian-Jewish immigration to the Canadian prairies over the last one hundred years. The story begins in Poland and Latvia in the 1890s and follows an often wild and woolly assortment of relatives as they strive to become Canadians. Meet great grandfather Mendel, the dairyman, who started it all by siring five sons and four daughters; Robert and Sarah, who are conned out of their tickets to gold-rushing San Francisco and stranded in Winnipeg; Iser, a boy of fourteen, who is inspired to leave Russia after reading The Last of the Mohicans; Maxwell, the rum-runner; Jake, the quintessential schlemiel; and Morris, with his ever-diminishing thumb; Big Bessie and Ida, the battling aunts who fight to the death in their own private strudel war; Solomon, the Gentle and gutsy Etza, caught up in war, revolution, and exile; and finally, the long-lost Margarita, who leaves the Soviet Union in 1990 to make a new life for herself and her children in Vancouver." -- University of Calgary Press