Edmonton is a city of heartwarming and heartbreaking imaginations that might wither without exposure to the wider world.
Monto Books, named for both the Cree word for ‘Creator’s spirit’ and its convenient placement in the middle of the word Edmonton, is the city’s smallest and most recent publisher. Editor Jason Lee Norman says it’s the future of Edmontonian writing.
“There’s a kind of love/hate relationship with the city and trying to be authentic,” says Norman. “Sometimes when you write about the city, you don’t know how to write about it except for maybe certain places, names, landmarks, and things like that. You don’t know what it’s like to live and work here. Edmonton writers, I think for the most part, have wrestled with that quite a bit.”
Monto has been good to local writers thus far. It launched its first official release, cartoonist Chad Huculak’s End of the Earth in late 2016, following up with Janice MacDonald’s travel memoir, Confederation Drive.
In 2013, Norman created the successful 40 Below anthology, a collection of stories, poems, and art sourced from Edmonton submissions and centered around the theme of winter in the city. Norman estimates he went through 400 original pieces before compiling the best of them into a novel.
“Since then, I’ve been looking for what will be supported in the same way by Edmontonians,” says Norman. “What are they looking for? First of all, something that feels local, but also feels unique and also just artistically of a high quality. If something can succeed here, I think it can do well other places around the country and the provinces and so forth.”
To that end, Norman will be accepting manuscripts in person during the Meet Monto event, an opportunity for emerging and unpublished authors to have their works read and responded to, as well as chat with some of Monto’s authors.
That’s not all Norman is up to. He’s been working on what he has tentatively named Project Compass. It’s an Edmonton literary experiment that follows four people from four compass points making their way to the center of the city. Local writers Robert Strong, Lizzie Derksen, Matthew Stepanic, and Kristina Vyskocil, have each penned their unique voices to one of the story’s four characters.
“For the longest time, I’ve been somebody who’s looking for young writers,” says Norman. “Young voices that are writing in a way that I feel is exciting and vital to what I feel people are looking for right now. I know being that kind of writer is kind of hard sometimes, and you’re not sure if your work is going to find a home. When I read people and I like what they do, I just want to find a way to support them in any way that I can, if that’s buying a book, or signing them up to one of my weird secret projects.”
Norman has big ambitions for his authors and those weird secret projects. While he intends to keep the stories he publishes centred around Edmonton, eventually he intends to approach a wider Canadian audience too.
“Some of the next things I want to do with Monto is take these artists and show them off,” says Norman. “Show people around the province and the country what kind of artists we have here.”