WITH REGARD to what is otherwise an insightful profile of M. T. Kelly in the November issue of Books in Canada, I would like to comment on what I believe to be a false impression about the publishing history of his award?winning novel, A Dream Like Mine.
It is quite inaccurate to say that he "was unable at first to find anyone who'd publish his most masterly achievement, 11 and that "once the book was certified as popular, it was accepted for publication (by Stoddart)." Although Stoddart did publish the book, that house was certainly not the first to accept the manuscript for publication.
In fact, not only did 1, as editor of Northward journal, publish the first three chapters of the novel in three successive issues in 1985 and 1986; as editor and director of Penumbra Press, I entered into a verbal agreement with Kelly in 1986 to publish the novel in book form the following year. In good faith I announced the book as a forthcoming publication and listed it as a projected publication in my Canada Council block grant application. I edited the manuscript and corresponded with Kelly about cover design and distribution. He even said he was "reassured" that Penumbra would be among the literary presses to be distributed by University of Toronto Press.
'Mat Kelly and Penumbra did not have a written agreement is not unusual; we didn't require such formalities ' with his two previous books published in 1979 and 1984. Yet in March, 1987 (after I had begun in?putting and coding the manuscript), Kelly called me to say I would be receiving a letter from his lawyer requesting me, to release him from any commitment to publish A Dream Like Mine with Penumbra Press. This I did out of friend ship and respect since the extraordinary five?digit advance Kelly told me Stoddart offered was something he needed. In my letter to his lawyer I said I did not "want to be responsible for hindering an author's perception of his ' chance to make it big right away. In fact, I wish him every success."
Your readers should not be surprised then that I feel betrayed by Kelly's claim he could find no one to publish his novel, not to mention that my nose is out of joint because of Kelly's and Stoddart's failure to extend the courtesy of acknowledging Northward Journar's role in pub lishing the first three chapters.
Publishers wouldn't normally think that in signing?the release of an author, they also erase from the author's memory the fact that an agreement had at one time existed. It is ironic, therefore, that in his acceptance speech for the Governor General's Award, Kelly should blame literary presses for rendering mute a whole generation of authors. In this case, it is clearly the author who has stifled his former publisher.
John Flood Aurora, Ont.
M. T. Kelly replies: THE WHOLE POINT of my remarks in mentioning small presses in my Governor General's Award acceptance speech was to praise them for being the spirit of the country, certainly not to blame them for the difficulties they face in distribution. I hope this was clear from the text of the speech published in Books in Canada, April, 1988.
As regards A Dream Like Mine, what John Flood says is essentially true, but before I entered into a verbal agreement with Penumbra I had tried for nearly a year to get the book accepted by a larger publisher; to no avail. The reason I wanted a larger publishing house was, again, distribution. Because of the subject matter of the book I wanted it to reach as large an audience as possible. If I failed to mention Penumbra to Nancy Wigston, or if she failed to make a note of it in the flood of information during our interview, I regret it.
Certainly Penumbra Press has not been erased from my mind. John Flood has been unfailingly supportive. When I lived in Levack, north of Sudbury, he published some of my first poetry, and he has kept that same poetry in print in Country You Can't Walk In and Other Poems. I subscribe to Northward journal and continue to believe that the voices heard in it are essential to the spirit of the country, especially in Northward journal's case which, Secause of its subject matter and location, seems part of the land itself.