'Serve the artists': Glass Bookshop launches small press

The co-owners of Glass Bookshop have now become publishers to encourage and elevate the kind of work they want to sell in their independent bookstore.

Glass House Press launches this week with the publication of three chapbooks: Bellow by Shima Robinson, aka Dwennimmen, Notes on Digging a Hole by Zachary Ayotte, and Ancestors and Exes by Emily Riddle.

"It was always something that my business partner, Jason Purcell, and I wanted to pursue together because our mandate is to support queer and racialized authors and independent presses," Matthew Stepanic said, adding that he and Purcell know many talented local writers who don't have their work published in book form.

Glass House Press will benefit from promotion through the bookshop, but it will exist as its own non-profit entity. Stepanic describes it as "two different businesses that work together naturally and makes sense to be contained in cohesion," similar to House of Anansi in Toronto. By setting it up that way, the press will be able to access grants and funding to remain sustainable.

That element of sustainability is integral to ensuring contributing artists are paid fairly for their work, said Stepanic, who has a background in publishing and co-founded Glass Buffalo magazine. Chapbook presses within Canada don't often pay their authors, he explained, instead opting to use the funds generated from sales to pay for future chapbooks.

"I think artists should be paid for their art ... that's really the only way that they can continue to make and create new art," Stepanic said. "With the press, there are no plans for it to make a profit other than to keep reinvesting in itself ... to serve the artists that it's working with."

He and Purcell have worked to strike a balance between operating a viable business and doing good with Glass Bookshop as well, where they pay staff a living wage and aim to build a better literary ecosystem in the city and across Canada.

The covers of three chapbooks from Glass House Press

Notes on Digging a Hole is an essay with photos by Zachary Ayotte, Ancestors and Exes offers poems by Emily Riddle, and Bellow is a poetry collection by Shima Robinson, aka Dwennimmen. They will be launched on May 19. (Supplied)

An emphasis on diversity is also a value that Glass Bookshop and Glass House Press share. "Just trying to bring in more from outside the typical spectrum of what people expect to read, because publishing is still very largely dominated by white voices, and there is tons of great stuff from non-white authors," Stepanic said.

A commitment to diversity is evident in the first three authors published by Glass House Press as well: Robinson is Black, Ayotte is queer, and Riddle is Nehiyaw. All are "incredible community builders in the city, heavily involved in the arts scene and politics," Stepanic said.

While the first season of Glass House Press features an entirely local lineup, including the art of graphic designer Sergio Serrano, Stepanic and Purcell plan to accept manuscript submissions in the future. "When you open it up to the community and let them know that they can submit, that's when you get delighted and surprised by what submissions could potentially come into your inbox," Stepanic said.

The pair decided to start with chapbooks because there's less of a startup cost involved in publishing the 20- to 40-page publications. But they're open to working on a full-length book once the press is established.

The chapbooks are currently available for sale, and will officially launch with a celebration and reading from all three authors at the Glass Bookshop space in Latitude 53 on May 19.

They are also available at Massy Books in Vancouver, and Stepanic is hoping publications from Glass House Press will be offered at bookstores across the country as it continues to grow.

"We didn't want to settle on just selling great books. We wanted to make our own great books, too."