In the spirit of the late, overly-lamented Canadian poet Bernie Earle, we bring the tale of Canada’s most woke literary freeloaders, BookThug (well, that used to be their name, but, then, er, read on…)
It ain’t easy standing out in a crowded field. All the other Canada Council-fed publishers are also busy rupturing themselves to pad their lists with newer and more exotic victims, along with the works of disabled lesbian Indigenous victims of colonialism, patriarchy and all the rest.
But no one can touch BookThug. Owned by lily-white pseuds Hazel Millar and Jay MillAr (not a typo), the husband-and-wife team print many of Canada’s most deserving/obscure poets, fiction writers and assorted typists skilled in the dark art of securing grants.
Indeed, BookThug books can be found everywhere, save for bookshelves and best-seller lists.
But at least it had a groovy name, until a couple of years ago, when Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman told the world that “thug” had become a substitute for the n-word.
Who knew? Up to that point, “thug” was simply a slur against people in India. It took nearly three years of intense soul searching, prodded by a few tweets from various grad students, to convince BookThug that it had a problem.
“This word ‘thug’ [underwent] many different meanings over time. Now it had changed in a very, very terrible way, and we did not want to appear that we were ignorant about it or tone deaf to that in any way, shape, or form,” MillAr told birdcage liner Quill and Quire.
So MillAr made the obvious decision for any woke Canadian indie publisher: Obtain a government grant to change his company name.
And it came to pass that BookThug got a pile of dough from the Ontario Media Development Corporation to hire a rebranding specialist. Her genius solution: Take the “T” out of “BookThug” and replace it with an asterisk. Result? Book*hug.
But despite the name fix, the new Book*hug still had problems. This winter, it published Shannon Webb-Campbell’s poetry collection, Who Took My Sister? Webb-Campbell, who has been struggling to hang onto her status as one of 100,000 Newfoundland Mi’kmaqs, was set to tour with the book this spring.
Enter Inuk author and activist Delilah Saunders to trash Webb-Campbell for graphically describing, in poetry, the murder of Saunders’ sister, Loretta. At the very least, Saunders said, Webb-Campbell should have asked the family for permission to write the poem. Webb-Campbell tweeted that she meant to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and promised not to read the poem aloud on her book tour.
Too late. The Millar/MillArs yanked Webb-Campbell’s book, pulped it, and accused her of failing to follow “indigenous protocols.”
Alas, they haven’t been as efficient in purging the last vestiges of BookThug.
The old url remains intact, replete with this righteous blurb: “BookThug wishes to acknowledge the land on which it operates. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are—(that’s enough woke drivel!—ed.)