Profile by Jane Ledwell
Honestly,” publisher Lynn Henry assures me, “I’ve never—and I have to say this makes me somewhat unusual among colleagues—I didn’t have it in mind to be an executive at Random House.” Nevertheless, today she is the publishing director of Doubleday—an imprint of Random House, the largest trade-book publisher in the world.
“I’m very unusual in my position in the publishing industry in Canada,” Lynn says when we meet over coffee during her Christmas holiday visiting PEI family and friends. “I’m personally unusual because I have spent all my career until now in the independent publishing world.”
Still, she says, “By no means was it an easy decision to make a move to Random House.” She moved from House of Anansi, the fabled independent Toronto press founded by Dennis Lee and Margaret Atwood, where Lynn was publisher for six years, until 2010—“In my time [at Anansi] it grew. It doubled in terms of employees and more than doubled in the number of titles it published, and it quadrupled in revenue.
“It had grown in every sense,” she says. During Lynn’s time there, Anansi published five Giller-shortlisted books, a Booker long-listed title, and an IMPAC winner. The last book Lynn worked on, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, was up for all three major book awards in Canada and was an Oprah Book Club pick. Lynn says, “Anansi is an amazing press and an amazing place to work.”
Before Anansi, Lynn worked at Raincoast Books in Vancouver, where happenstance made her the Canadian editor of the Harry Potter books. But she moved to Vancouver originally to work at the small literary press, Polestar. And before that, her career in publishing began here in Charlottetown with Ragweed Press, and it was at Ragweed that she found her literary values.
“Something I’ve sought to find every place I’ve worked,” Lynn reflects, “is a sense of connection, of a community of writers deeply invested in the conversation about making something that is beautiful, that is lasting, and that sells.” At Ragweed, she learned about all aspects of publishing, from editing to layout to typesetting—even summer sales and distribution, in a vehicle lovingly dubbed the “Rag-mobile.”
“It got me thinking that you don’t have to be someplace like Random House to create something worthwhile that has meaning for the world you are living in,” Lynn says.
Here, she also began to recognize literary values that would guide her choices as a publisher: “The thing that attracts me always is the vibrant, energetic voice… When I read Kathleen Winter or Lisa Moore, they don’t write perfect books, but they get at the stuff of life, somehow; there’s some kind of life in the writing.”
The life captured in Canadian writing is changing, too. Lynn says, with energy: “We are more than we think. We are a country of a variety of experiences, including immigrant experiences…”
She says, “Canadian writing is known and admired around the world. A decade ago, it was major names… Now, people are aware of really interesting, vibrant writers who are not Atwoods, Munros, or Ondaatjes. A hallmark of the new Canadian writing is that it is quite cosmopolitan, quite polished—and not as attached to place as in previous generations.”
PEI isn’t cosmopolitan (yet), but Lynn says, “I’m so grateful for the experience with Ragweed,” Lynn says. “One of the reasons I went to Doubleday is that I’ve never felt that bigger houses are the be all and end all. I’m glad that hasn’t been my path. The value I bring to Doubleday comes because I’ve had other experiences.”
By moving from independent publishers to Doubleday, Lynn says, “I’m not climbing the ladder—I’m trying to recreate that connection to community.”
“Publishing is hugely changing,” Lynn says. “People are realizing the value of deep connections.” Where she is now, at the centre of the publishing world, she says, “Not only is there space for that, but they want to expand that space, for collaborative, editorially creative projects.” Through Doubleday, Lynn Henry will be able to take projects to larger audiences than the young woman who drove a Rag-mobile ever imagined.