News and Interviews

Special Feature: Book*hug Press

Book*hug Millars

On November 2, 2019, a throng of enthusiastic word nerds gathered at Harbourfront Centre to toast Book*hug Press on its fifteenth anniversary. It was an appropriate venue in which to celebrate, given that Book*hug’s first official title—a book of Danish poetry in translation—sprang from Harbourfront Centre’s Super Danish Festival back in 2004. Since that time, the indie publisher has been putting out diverse lists of boundary-busting fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including works from renowned authors such as Andre Alexis, Shani Mootoo, and Lee Maracle.  And while the press’s lists often fall well outside the mainstream, Book*hug titles have received critical acclaim and have landed on Canada’s most prestigious literary award shortlists.

I spoke with founders Jay MillAr and Hazel Millar about their decade-and-a-half long adventure in Can-Lit.

Deb Dundas

Open Book

First of all, Happy Anniversary and congratulations! It’s quite a feat to keep a small press alive and well in this era of publishing conglomerates, arts council cuts, and mass distraction. Does this anniversary feel like a milestone? And are you exhausted or energized?


Thank you very much! We are so excited to have reached this milestone and although it has been a lot of work to get to this point, we feel more energized than ever. It’s a really exciting time to be an independent publisher and we are very grateful to be able to contribute to the exciting literary conversations and dialogues happening in the world today. We continue to be excited by voices that need to be heard – this is in fact what keeps us energized, and keen to continue on our journey of what we affectionally refer to as adventures in literary publishing. Every new book, and every new season of books, is a whole new adventure.

Toasts to Book*hug press

Open Book

Your submission guidelines state that you’re looking for work by Indigenous writers, writers of colour, LGBTQ2S+ writers, deaf and disabled writers, and women writers. Why is this important to you?  Do you think you’ve published books that otherwise wouldn’t have found homes?


Book*hug is deeply committed to helping to build a more inclusive CanLit by publishing culturally diverse voices whose work has been historically underrepresented in the publishing landscape. Our mission is to publish work that meaningfully contributes to and reflects culture and society, and we aim to ensure that our catalogue is reflective of an inclusive and multicultural Canada. We are looking for work that challenges and pushes at the boundaries of cultural expectations; work that is bold, necessary and urgent.When acquiring manuscripts, we carefully consider questions such as: whose voices are missing, and who are the storytellers that we need most right now?

We are proud of all the books we’ve had the good fortune to acquire and publish. A few recent titles we’re especially proud of are Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight, My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle, Coconut Dreams by Derek Mascarenhas, and Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway, to name only a few (we could list many more!)  It certainly isn’t a case of thinking the books we’ve published might not have found other homes. In fact, we’re confident these books could have easily been published elsewhere, but we’re so happy they were submitted to us, and that we could offer them a home at Book*hug. We are grateful to and humbled by our authors for trusting us with their beautiful words.

Cherie Dimaline and Hazel Millar

Open Book

A few years ago, you dealt with a controversy surrounding your press’s former name, which had come to mean something offensive—obviously, something you never intended. At the time, Book*hug was billed as the temporary name for the press before you re-branded. Have you now settled on Book*hug as the official name, or are you still searching for a new moniker?


Book*hug Press is officially our new name. It’s true that when we first replaced the ‘T’ with an asterisk it was meant to act as a placeholder while we worked to come up with a new name. Something very interesting began to happen during this time though. As we intensely worked with a brand manager and compiled lists and charts of possible new names, our temporary name became our new name in a lovely and organic way. People started to reach out to us, via email, social media, or in person, to tell us how much they loved the new name. People told us they appreciated that we listened to and engaged with the criticisms we had received. We made a promise early on to remain open to change and to be adaptable to the changing needs of the culture to which the press contributes. People also told us they felt the asterisk demonstrated we weren’t attempting to erase or sweep away our old name. This really resonated with us. We came to see that officially changing our name to Book*hug would permit us to mark a significant change, a rupture really, in our history.

We feel the asterisk serves as a timestamp on an important moment in our history, and helps to illustrate an important moment in our overall narrative, but it also signals a way forward. We’ve also come to think of the asterisk as being symbolic of a doorknob, and if you turn and open it, you will find this story archived. Lastly, we also like that we were able to find not only the word hug in ‘thug’, but also the word risk in asterisk; after all we are no longer the scrappy young punk press that showed up on the CanLit scene fifteen years ago looking to shake things up. We like to think we’ve grown into a press with a sense of mature disobedience, and a healthy dose of radical optimism.

Authors as the Book*hug celebration

Open Book

Tell me about your expansion into vinyl records as companion pieces to your books.  It seems like a nifty idea. How did it come about? Have those items proven to be popular?


We’ve always been interested in how different modes of expression can share the same space, and we’ve always been music fans as much as we are literary fans. One day, our old friend Andrew Whiteman, of acts like Broken Social Scent and Apostle of Hustle, approached us with an idea to make vinyl recordings of literary music and we thought this was something worth exploring. Together, we talked about what it would be like to bring writers and musicians together in order to re-invent both mediums: could writing be experienced as music and music experienced as writing? Can contemporary writing be “pop”? Can contemporary music be “literary”? These conversations eventually led us to create Chaos & Star Records, a literary record imprint that provides space where two different modes of creativity and listening can converge. It pairs Book*hug authors with Canadian independent musicians to produce limited edition 7” vinyl recordings.

When we launched the project with the first three pilot releases, there was quite a bit of interest and excitement in the media. Unfortunately, the market did not respond in a similar fashion: bookstores weren’t keen to stock the records, and sadly record stores weren’t either. We currently sell the records through our website, and also offer them as giveaways with a minimum purchase. Regardless, we have been thinking about how to develop Chaos & Star further, and in fact, we just released a new project under the imprint: The Gift: A Story and Music by Leanne Dunic and The Deep Cove. For this, we produced a limited-edition chapbook that also comes with a free digital album download.

Kelvin Kong and friend

Open Book:  

How has the landscape changed for indie publishing over the last fifteen years?


As we mentioned earlier, it’s an exciting time for independent publishers. Indies have traditionally been the publishers who look toward the horizon, discover and nurture new voices, and work to carve out new or niche markets for them. It’s incredible to see how independent publishers are building success after success with new and established voices in today’s marketplace. This is certainly the case at Book*hug Press, and we see our publishing colleagues doing the same. As an independent publisher, we are in the fortunate position of being able to take more chances, and be daring; we don’t have to chase trends or mine endless data to curate our list. We work hard to remain true to our vision and mandate, and we feel that because of this, readers both appreciate and are excited by our catalogue. We work hard to support authors whose literary work we feel exemplifies our vision, and we are dedicated to helping readers discover and engage with their work. We’ve always had an “if you build it, they will come” attitude about what we do, and it’s exciting to see how many new readers we connect with for each and every book we publish.

Hazel Millar

Open Book

What are you most proud of over Book*hug’s fifteen-year history? And what’s on the horizon?  How do you envision the future of the press?


We are very proud of our commitment early on to being open and adaptable to change. We’ve never been interested in simply being part of the status quo. We’ve never walked safely down the middle of the CanLit road and we never will. We’re proud of how we have managed to fail spectacularly from time to time and that we have tried to be accountable to those mistakes and work through them with transparency and openness. We are very grateful and humbled to be able to what we do. We don’t take for granted the honour and privilege it is to be a publisher. We are also very proud of the community of readers and writers we have been able to cultivate. These are the people who look toward the horizon with us.

We are super excited about our new and forthcoming lists, and for the chance to keep contributing and helping to move conversations forward. But above all, we are very proud of our past fifteen years – people tell us we have built something special. This means a lot to us. We see what we have built as a magnificent foundation that we can continue to build on for the next fifteen years and beyond.

Elyse Friedman was born in Toronto, where she still lives. She has written three novels (The Answer to EverythingThen AgainWaking Beauty), a book of short fiction (Long Story Short, a Novella & Stories), and a collection of poems (Know Your Monkey). Her work has been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award, the Toronto Book Award and the Relit Award. Her short fiction has appeared in the Journey Prize Anthology and Best Canadian Stories, and she won the Gold National Magazine Award for Fiction for her story The SootherKnow Your Monkey was selected as a Foreword Magazine Book of the Year. Elyse has also written for screens large and small, radio, magazines and the stage.