Academic presses, like the University of Regina Press (URP), operate at almost two dozen universities across Canada and publish hundreds of scholarly books and journals annually. In the past numbers of years, the University of Regina Press has punched above its weight, earning a reputation for books that are accessible and relevant to academic, as well as every day readers. This year, URP is celebrating eight national best sellers, the bestselling Canadian academic title of all time, and, its tenth anniversary – and that’s something to write home about.
So how did UR Press get to where it is today?
Fifty years ago, in 1973, the University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus) established its original academic press – the Canadian Plains Research Centre (CPRC) Publication Division. Over the course of its history, CPRC focused on publishing research and stories about the Great Plains. The Press also published Prairie Forum, a multidisciplinary journal on topics of relevance to the Canadian Plains region, and, in 2005, released the epic Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.
Today, the CPRC’s successor, University of Regina Press, not only focuses on research and publications in the humanities, keeping to the press’ academic roots, but along the way it has published cookbooks, crime non-fiction, sports and recreation titles, and poetry collections.
Take for instance the Press' Oskana Poetry and Poetics series. The series features both established authors and newcomers to the genre who tackle the deepest and most urgent issues of today. The series also explores the cultural relevance of poetry in the modern age.
“The URP’s Oskana Poetry and Poetics Series is an example how the Press has changed,” says former director Elsa Johnston. “The work of this poetry collection is recognized internationally. There is a bookstore in the U.S. with a whole section dedicated to the Oskana Series,” she says. “Oskana is the Cree word for ‘bones’ and speaks to the Press’ commitment to publish titles of the important issues of our day such as environmental crisis and Indigenous justice.”
Johnston says the overarching purpose of URP remains to support the research and goals of the University of Regina and to advance knowledge and inspire new scholars.
David McLennan BA’03, a member of the URP editorial team, has worked for URP and CPRC for more than two decades. When he started, he was one of three employees who shared one small office. Now URP has a full staff of nine located in Regina, Winnipeg and Toronto. They travel to academic conferences and international book fairs to discover new authors and network with other publishers. They’re buying and selling rights to URP books for translation, for sale in other countries and for film options. And you’ll also find URP books on the shelves at Costco and WalMart.
It takes time
“Most people don’t realize publishing is such a long game,” McLennan explains."Once a book is written, there's two more years of hard work needed to get it from manuscript to published work."
First there is the internal review of the manuscript, which may take roughly 12 weeks. If staff like what they read, they search for relevant scholars to review the submission. That search takes a couple more weeks. Then the external, professional (peer) review is maybe another 12 weeks. The reviewers’ comments and suggestions go to the author, who may work again on the manuscript for a few more months, before it goes back to external reviewers for a last look.
Finally, the author may need to do some more fine tuning. Then there’s more time needed for indexing, illustrations, cover artwork and finding endorsers to give quotes for the book jacket. The press has two publication seasons per year––spring and fall––which could also affect a release date, especially if there are other books ahead of it in the queue. “I explain the process to authors up front, so they know, step-by-step, how things are going to transpire,” he says.
Working with the first-time writer
One of the writers to work with URP staff is first-time author Andrea Custer BA’07. Custer, and co-author by Beth Daniels, wrote nēhiyawētān kīkināhk / Speaking Cree in the Home, a hands-on guide to help parents and caregivers immerse themselves, their children, and their homes in the language. Books that focus on Indigenous language and its preservation is one of URP’s focuses – Custer’s passion.
The First Nations Language Series’ goal is to produce titles in each of the First Nations languages spoken in Canada. They’ve published nine books so far. The latest volume is in Tsuut’ina, a Dene language spoken by a small handful of people mainly in Alberta. “Through our publishing, we are helping to preserve and revitalize the language,” says Johnston. In addition to the print copy, the press is looking into audio. “These types of work require a lot of connections, time, respect and care with relationships, so Indigenous communities are comfortable with the publication.” Each book is translated into syllabics, Standard Roman Orthography (SRO), and English.
In her day job, Custer is a lecturer and program coordinator of the Indigenous languages and linguistics program at the First Nations University of Canada’s Northern Campus in Prince Albert. In her spare time, she has produced a podcast with Charlotte Ross, Cree and Coffee with the Crazy Crees; has been helping build a Cree language nest program on Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation; is the chair and co-founder of a non-profit organization, Rock Creek Cree Language Council Inc.; and is working on a PhD through the University of Victoria in Indigenous language revitalization. “I’m all about the language. It’s not a nine-to-five thing for me––it’s every day, all day,” she explains.
Speaking Cree in the Home serves as a manual on the Cree “y” dialect, one of three dialects spoken in Saskatchewan (there are five spoken in Canada). It teaches the basics of reading Cree and Standard Roman Orthography and how to pronounce vowels; engages readers in language-learning games; and gives examples of common words and phrases that can be worked into daily routines. Throughout, Custer and Daniels share personal experiences of their own language journeys.
When searching for a publisher, Custer and Daniels wanted to ensure the book would be peer reviewed. The University of Regina Press (URP) was a natural choice, given its academic rigour, regional focus and commitment to the revitalization of Indigenous languages.
Working with the seasoned writer
The URP editorial team also works with seasoned writers skilled at communicating with the public, like Dale Eisler BA’70, a former provincial and national journalist. Eisler’s fourth book, From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation. The book has been short-listed for The Hill Times Best Books of 2022 and the 2023 Shaugnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and won the Scholarly Writing Award at the 2023 Saskatchewan Book Awards.
This is the second book that he’s published with the University of Regina; False Expectations: Politics and the Pursuit of the Saskatchewan Myth was published in 2006 by the CPRC.
“The UBC Press was also interested in From Left to Right, but I felt that, given the subject and nature of the book focusing on Saskatchewan, using a local publisher was the best way to go. They have a better appreciation and familiarity with the subject,” Eisler says.
Eisler believes it’s important for Canada to have regional presses, because “Canada is a regional country with unique interests that reflect the regions. Having the University of Regina Press focusing on issues relevant to Saskatchewan and the prairie region is useful in terms of getting stories into the public arena that we feel are important.”
Over its history, the press has published almost 800 titles, including eight national bestsellers, and has won more awards than McLennan can remember. “At least a couple of hundred,” he says. Their backlist includes Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Indigenous Life by James Daschuk, a seminal work about the colonization of Indigenous people in what is currently known as Canada. Daschuk's book has found its way into classrooms across Canada providing an important early Canadian history lesson.
“James never used the term ‘genocide’ in the text, but the book was about genocide,” notes McLennan. “When James wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, our press encouraged him to use the term in the article, and it’s now part of the lexicon in Canada. To publish books that cause people to re-evaluate—correctly—our country’s past is hugely satisfying.”
A voice for many peoples
Intern Jellyn Ayudan BA’22, who started at the press after graduating with an English degree from the U of R last year, is proud to have worked on the reprint of Our Grandmothers’ Lives as Told in Their Own Words by Freda Ahenakew and H.C. Wolfart. The volume is also published in syllabics, SRO, and English. Ayudan painstakingly went through the book to add diacritical marks to the Cree SRO. “Working on a text like this, as a non-Cree speaker, was such an honour and a privilege. I thought about how I would want my language to be presented,” she says. “Cree is one of the fastest-growing speaker populations in Canada. I’m thrilled to be part of this industry of people creating texts for Cree learners and speakers.”
“Our motto drives our editorial vision––to be a voice for many peoples and help to amplify the voices of people who are often underrepresented,” Johnston explains. In addition to publishing books by marginalized people and people from racialized communities and equality-deserving communities, the press contracts freelancers from different backgrounds to work on some of their titles. “It’s important for us to ensure appropriate representation in the workforce.”
The ultimate satisfaction for authors and URP staff is when a work resonates with its audience. “I met a woman who said she was using Speaking Cree in the Home with her children and mother. That was the purpose of the book—we wanted it in homes to reach people intergenerationally. It makes my heart happy,” says Custer.