Frontenac House finds mentorship for new authors particularly rewarding

Small press prides itself on committing to each new author they work with

Founded in 2000 by Rose and David Scollard, Frontenac House is an independent press primarily focused on poetry with its annual Quartet series. They are also expanding into fiction, art books, political satire, drama, and non-fiction, as well as many collections and anthologies.

With a philosophy of publishing fresh, edgy literature to push the boundaries as much as possible, Frontenac has been home to a diverse and intersectional lineup of LGBTQ+ writers, Indigenous writers, and writers of colour.

“If we can offer publishing opportunities to some new voices, and mentor some young authors, a little bit of my own good fortune can hopefully be spread around.” - Neil Petrunia

Recently, veteran Frontenac designer Neil Petrunia stepped into the role of publisher, when Rose and David Scollard decided to move away from the company. Associated with the press since the beginning and having designed virtually all of their books, Petrunia says he wasn’t ready to quit publishing. He and his wife, Terry Davies, now managing editor, bought the company from the Scollards, keeping them on as “publishers emeriti” and advisors.

With a degree in creative writing, and a lifetime working with authors and creative people as a graphic designer, Petrunia was in a perfect position to take advantage of the opportunity. He had other reasons to become a publisher, as well.

“I was the recipient of some excellent mentoring when I was starting out, and I feel it’s important to pay that forward,” Petrunia says. “If we can offer publishing opportunities to some new voices, and mentor some young authors, a little bit of my own good fortune can hopefully be spread around.”

Based in Calgary, Petrunia strives to publish as many local authors as possible. Well-connected to the province’s community of vibrant and well-developed writers through poetry editor Micheline Mayor, he says it’s only natural for Frontenac to maintain their first criterion of quality and freshness by representing that group. Also within that criterion, the press is committed to being open to new talent, or as Petrunia puts it, “writers who are on the radar but haven’t broken through yet.”

He continues, “I haven’t looked up the number of first-time authors we’ve published, but it is a significant number. We’ve functioned as a stepping stone for some authors who went on to publish with bigger houses, and we are all right with that. We have also had many authors come back to us for their second and third books, and we are all right with that, too.”

A small press publishing rarely more than eight titles a year, Petrunia promises that when they do take on an author, their commitment is honoured as they work closely to make the book the best it can be.

“We have had authors tell us that they have never been treated so well by a publishing house, and that makes us proud,” he says.

Still, despite its strong philosophy and connection to its local literary community, Petrunia claims that some in the national community are surprised to find out Frontenac’s place of origin. He quotes one attendee of the 2018 Griffin Prize event in Toronto as saying, “Surely with a name like that, Frontenac House must be from Quebec or Ottawa.”

At that particular awards gala, Frontenac celebrated a big win for Billy-Ray Belcourt’s first collection, This Wound Is a World. The award gave Frontenac (and Belcourt himself!) a bump in that the book is now in its eighth printing. Petrunia reflects on the original 500-copy run, wishing he would have “printed 10,000 of that book the first time.” The bump also puts Frontenac on the radar of new authors, and bodes well for future Quartet series, of which This Wound Is a World is an alumnus.

An annual series of four simultaneously published collections, the Quartet was born from the Scollard spirit of publishing “the wild stuff.” Petrunia says he “was in,” remembering them wanting to have as much fun doing that as possible, while balancing cost with maintaining the quality of work, as publishing four books at once was much less expensive.

Petrunia believes all of Frontenac’s books are standout publications. In April, he is looking forward to releasing Sharanpal Ruprai’s Pressure Cooker Love Bomb and A Love Letter to Emily C, a play from spoken word legend Sheri-D Wilson, the publication of which aligns with the stage production in Calgary.

“And of course,” he says, “we are in production with Quartet 2019. We have returning author Keith Garebian’s Against Forgetting; Natalie Meisner’s Baddie One Shoe; Laura Zacharin’s Common Brown House Moths; and Conrad Scott’s Waterline Immersion. As always, we are excited about this group.”