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Interview with the Publisher

True North

A Manotick publisher
takes it literally, as
do the writers that
submit manuscripts


By Diane Vroom


The Packet, Manotick

Saturday, March 4, 2000

A love for the North and for books rests at the heart of Penumbra Press, a Manotick publishing company.

John Flood, president of Penumbra Press, sort of fell into the publishing business 21 years ago, an endeavor that proved a natural extension of his career as an English professor at a small, bilingual university in Northern Ontario.

As the only English professor on staff at the university in Hearst, Ontario, "the moose capital of Canada," Mr. Flood started up a magazine to help him keep in touch with his peers. He got so many submissions for this bilingual magazine, Boreal, that it eventually outgrew its form as a magazine and Mr. Flood started the publishing company, Penumbra Press in 1979 to keep up with all the fantastic manuscripts he was receiving.

"It was a lot busier in those days. We were just a small publisher but would get stuff from all over Canada," said Mr. Flood. "We would get 100 to 150 manuscripts a year."

He is also a writer and poet, so when he works with other writers or budding poets he knows where they are coming from. One of his poems is currently entertaining bus riders, as part of OC Transpo's Trans Poetry program.

Mr. Flood and his family moved to Moonbeam, and he continued to teach in Hearst. It was while he was living in Moonbeam, a small town north of Timmins, that Penumbra Press was born. It is not a surprise that Penumbra's focus of more than 20 years of book publishing has rested squarely on the North, and the 'idea' of the North.

The company is appropriately named, since Penumbra is the name for part of the moon's shadow during an eclipse. Meaning 'almost shadow,' the penumbra is the area around the moon where the sun is partially visible during a solar eclipse, it is the halo, or glow, we see during a partial eclipse; the area between complete shadow and full illumination. Penumbra Press, Mr. Flood says jokingly was a little less hokey than some of the other names he tossed around such as Moonbeam Press.

He created a course on Northern Ontario literature while at the university in Hearst, and as a publisher specializing in northern issues he incorporated many of Penumbra's unique titles into the course.

"The North has always been a place of inspiration for me," says the writer, poet and publisher about his focus on Canada's North. Penumbra Press specializes in poetry series, art books, black and white children's books and books concerned with Northern and First Nations issues including Native literature, legends and myths.

Although he has never visited what is considered to be the true North, or arctic, Mr. Flood has lived as far north as Moosonee, and he doesn't agree with the notion that you have to have been to the North to have your own idea of what the North is. He notes that he is especially taken with the idea of the North as a place of repose, a place to gather thoughts, and with writers and artists who use this idea in their work.

With some 200 titles in print he says it is important for him to ensure that all of the books remain in print and available to people. "I'm really interested in keeping books in print. I'm a book person," said Mr. Flood. Novel Ideas, a store in Manotick, has agreed to stock all of Penumbra's titles, making them available to customers.

Penumbra cut back on its titles when Mr. Flood and his family moved to Manotick in 1994. After 24 years of teaching in Hearst the professor signed on at Carleton University as President of the Carleton University Press. He stayed there until the press was closed a few years later due to cut backs at the university.

Today, the small publishing company is experiencing renewed growth as Mr. Flood, now retired, and his wife Eileen, made the decision to rebuild the company. Penumbra's list of titles is expanding. Last year Penumbra published more than one title a month.

"As I'm rebuilding I have to look at what sort of publishing would continue to keep my interest, and make a living." For now the focus is on biographies and autobiographies. Memories are popular right now he says. As the population ages, boomers are interested in recording their histories, stories and memories, he says.




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1 King Ave E. PO Box 20011, Newcastle, Ontario, Canada, L1B 1M3

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