How this independent publisher is helping young authors break through in a tough literary world
Montreal-based Metatron wants to reflect a new generation's sensibilities
"It becomes an act of protest for me. It's a way to assert value on something I feel is and should be considered valuable by society at large."
Those are the words of Ashley Opheim, the founder and managing editor of Metatron, an offbeat independent publishing house based out of Montreal. The company was bred as a reaction to Opheim's recognition of a sore need for Canadian publishers to take on work that reflected her generation's sensibilities — the same sort of writing she and co-editor Guillaume Morissette were witnessing emerge in abundance from Concordia University's Creative Writing program.
Between Metatron's rising catalogue of authors (predominantly young Anglophones whose visions are informed by being raised on the internet) and the annual Metatron Prize (the promise of a publication deal for one winning manuscript), Opheim and Morissette are helping overlooked talent break into the tough literary world.
The company's origins can be traced back to the duo's 2011 reading series "This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not". Once Opheim realized she would need to take matters into her own hands if her peers' work was ever going to see the light of day, she and Morissette used a grant from Emploi-Québec's Young Volunteers program to fund the inaugural catalogue, composed of 6 chapbooks.
"I am amazed by how the type of books we publish, which are usually pocket-sized and don't take months to finish reading, subconsciously reflect digital culture in their aesthetic sensibilities and design decisions," says Morissette, noting that Metatron is currently centred on print publication — although certain titles, including last year's Metatron Prize Winner Pony Castle by Sofia Banzhaf, may be purchased as an e-book. "When we publish a book in print, it's energizing for us to see it pop up in different people's Instagram feeds, or watch people share quotes from it online, etc. — to see the physical become digital."
I am amazed by how the type of books we publish, which are usually pocket-sized and don't take months to finish reading, subconsciously reflect digital culture in their aesthetic sensibilities and design decisions.- Guillaume Morissette
"Starting and running a press such as Metatron would have been virtually impossible 20 years ago," seconds Opheim. "But with the advance of affordable technologies, social networks and programs such as InDesign, Google Drive and Slack, we've been able to manifest beautiful books and harness a certain excitement for contemporary literature that feels unique to our time and place."
Nevertheless, the current three-person team behind Metatron (which also includes assistant editor Jay Ritchie) are all known to break a physical sweat over their undertaking. Submitting to other contests, Opheim experienced firsthand how "writers tend to give so so much and receive so little," and so for each of the 200 manuscripts they received — tripled from last year — they responded with at least 1 or 2 pages of constructive feedback for each and every submission, amounting to a staggering 500 pages. Holding manuscript competitions is nothing out of the ordinary for most publishers, but Opheim believes their style of conducting the annual prize attempts to align them with more established publishers, while remaining "an act that is a little bit rebellious in the sense that it sets [them] apart a little too."
As a result, this year the team accepted seven manuscripts in addition to the first place winner, extending their catalogue plans into the fall of 2017 and further positioning them alongside the timelines of the industry at large. A collection of poetry entitled Soft Focus, from Brooklyn writer Sarah Jean Grimm, came out on top.
Although Metatron's initial mandate was providing an outlet for local writers, it has expanded beyond those limitations and now seeks fresh voices from throughout the continent. Aside from print pursuits, their ÖMËGÄ blog plays host to hundreds of authors, and frequent live readings are held in both Toronto and Montreal. And in addition to giving a home to Canadian audiences, they're finding that the most significant portion of Metatron's readership is coming from within the United States.
As the company's influence grows, Opheim says they are currently exploring methods to put initiatives for diversity into place. "I want to work much harder towards making Metatron a diverse and dynamic press that represents the underrepresented voices in our culture, as those are the voices I'm personally most moved by and curious to read. With that said, I don't want to use diversity as a 'boasting' point. I want us to just do it, and not need to proclaim or be praised for it."