Some Context in Text: The MPub Origin Story

MPub founder Rowly Lorimer



Rowly Lorimer at the launch of his book, Ultra Libris
Rowly Lorimer, Ultra Libris launch — courtesy of John Maxwell

The initial idea for a national professional publishing program came from a past executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of BC, Tony Gregson. Ann Cowan, then director of the Writing and Publishing program in what used to be Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser, picked up on the idea and sought funds to undertake a national consultation on the need for and preferred nature of such a program. Early in this process, knowing that I had done some publishing research and was teaching at least one undergraduate course on Canada’s book publishing industry and attendant policies, Ann reached out to me. Together, largely on the basis of funding acquired by Ann, we canvassed publishers, editors, authors, librarians, and other members mainly, but not solely, of the book community for their opinions. In part, we explored the need to build on existing efforts at Ryerson, a short intensive course organized by publishing professionals and delivered at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the programs of the national association of magazine publishers, now Magazines Canada. Support was strong and consensus was quickly reached on a need for a graduate, research-based program paralleling similar efforts in the UK and Germany. There were, of course, those who felt that any national program should be based in Toronto but others (including industry-leading Torontonians such as Doug Gibson and Cynthia Good) who were willing to step up with unqualified support. Equally, there was a more general recognition that Simon Fraser was the only university willing to countenance the creation of such a program. “Willing to countenance” is a euphemism for a spirited discussion within the institution that can be summed up by the time and resources it took to move from consideration to implementation. From the beginning proposal to final approval took ten years. It required determination to take “no” as a request for revision and the need for some extra stick handling. It also was underpinned by collaboration on the design of the program with, and the teaching skills of, industry stalwarts such as James J. Douglas. And, in the end, the approval of the program was facilitated by a substantial donation of cash and in-kind support from the CEO of Reader’s Digest Canada, Ralph Hancox and the Reader’s Digest Foundation of Canada. Inside the university the unwavering support of Dean Jack Blaney and the turn of phrase used by the Dean of Business Stan Shapiro were critical in what looked like the final chance to gain approval by the University Senate. The MPub began, in quite an amusing fashion. Much to my surprise, I was told by the Vice President, Academic, before the program had any budget, that we could admit students. Thereby, Nancy Duxbury, Michael Hayward and Bette Laughy became the first three students admitted to the program. The following year, the program began in earnest with a target of 12 students. It also began with an emphasis on policy, history and technology to be understood and applied in practice. However, with the obvious intense engagement of students in understanding and mastering practice, and encouraged by the engagement of students in the Banff-derived projects Ron Woodward built into his design and production courses, the emphasis began to change. Gradually, group-based projects assumed a more central role complemented at a first level by the editing and business courses and at a further level by the technology, policy and history courses. It was certainly inspiring to see the arrival each year of a fresh set of faces and sense the gradual formation of a cohort of colleagues who have often kept in touch long after they left the program and discovered MPubbers from previous and subsequent years. The highlight of that dynamic came in an email when one MPubber told us of a meeting in Ottawa reviewing government programs in which nine of the 20 or so participants were graduates of the program. For me, personally, my two decades with the MPub was the highlight of my academic career. I loved directing something both immediate and obviously bigger to which I could contribute. Many academics never have that chance. The gathering together of a small group of instructors, all with differing expertise and all essential to the success of the program, laid a foundation for collaboration, respect, and effectiveness. Still today, it reminds me of the collaboration that is necessary for scientific breakthroughs and operations like Mars missions. What disappeared in that organizational form and its management was rivalry and lack of appreciation of colleagues. It soon became an explicit goal that we should set a standard for professional conduct to help each cohort to coalesce respectfully and to prepare students for the job market. The program also provided a public for my research activities focused on management and policy. As provinces, professional associations, federal agencies, and international organizations looked for external review of their policies and programs, they found it useful to engage someone who brought a professional rather than a disciplinary perspective, such as economics or law, to the task. I found this enormously stimulating and saw it as providing a solid foundation for Simon Fraser’s most recent motto of “Engaging the World.” As of 2020, I haven’t exactly let go. In the years following my retirement from SFU I’ve been involved through the associated Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing in providing publishing services to slightly fewer than a dozen scholarly journals. My latest effort, since policy is in my bones, is an attempt to encourage federal recognition of scholarly journal publishing as an entry point for students and faculty to understand and participate in the knowledge economy. But I sense a full retirement coming soon knowing the program is in good hands and serves both students and a technologically based expansion into the generation and dissemination of knowledge acquisition in all its manifestations.

And First There Were Three – The Inaugural Cohort


MPUB 2019/20

As two of the most recent MPubbers—though we’re not quite done yet—we’ve experienced the program in a unique light. It’s not an editing class if you’re not deciphering Scott’s cryptic handwritten feedback. annotations are forever sprinkled across all your readings for the week (and maybe someone’s dropped in a funny GIF to break up the heavy discourse). Book project crunch-time panic comes bundled with the small joy of making your own promotional buttons on Mauve’s brand new button press. Afternoon classes are sometimes infused with a sugar rush as a box of Timbits makes its way around the desks. These are all the little things that made up the MPub experience for us.

But it is certainly a long road from the beginnings of MPub to where we find ourselves today. While the program is, relatively speaking, a fairly young addition to SFU, 25 years kicking around the Vancouver campus is certainly a substantial milestone—one we would like to stand atop and look back on the road that brings us here. In the spirit of retrospection and reminiscing, we spoke with the first ever students (or guinea pigs, as they sometimes thought of themselves) of the Master of Publishing to find out more about the earliest days of the program and how much things have changed since then.

26 years ago, the MPub we know and love didn’t exist. Rowly Lorimer had to make very special arrangements with SFU in order to enrol students into a program that wasn’t actually official. These students would prove to the senate that a full-scale publishing program was worthwhile for scholarly inquiry and practice. So, in its conception, MPub consisted of only three students—Bette Laughy, Michael Hayward, and Nancy Duxbury. As Nancy put it,

“It was kind of a mutually beneficial arrangement. So the three of us were, I think, really eager to start a program which didn’t properly exist yet.”

In the time before the book project, magazine/media project, and tech project, the original MPubbers relied on quite a bit of independent study, individually taking the courses they needed to from professors borrowed from the Communication and Business departments. But as any graduate will tell you now, there’s no way to avoid group work in MPub. While sometimes it can lead to hilarious bonding moments (picking up a fake, smelly potted plant off the street to use as your fake company’s mascot for instance), other times it can lead to a fistfight outside the project rooms. For better or worse, group projects are a staple of the current MPub experience.

As we talked to the first graduates about the differences between then and now, Michael was quick to express:

“The one thing I missed—and I’m sure we’d all feel much the same—by going through as guinea pigs or pioneers we didn’t have the opportunity to work in a cohort, in groups, and I’ve always enjoyed group work so I kind of wish we’d had a chance to do the book projects, the magazine projects that current MPub students work on collaboratively.”

Like the joys and trials of group work, all MPubbers have experienced the long list of publishers, publicists, editors, designers, and sales reps that file through our two short semesters of classes—in fact, many graduates become those guests, returning to the program to share their worldly wisdom or commiserate with current students in the thick of book project revisions. John would even sometimes excitedly tout our graduate guests as ‘proof of life after MPub!’ The initial test program, with its nascent curriculum, no official department, and no real textbooks, relied heavily on instruction from publishing professionals.

“That was certainly one of the key components of the MPub program, what made it so unique and so interesting to people like us is that it had backing from industry and key people from the Canadian publishing industry were participating as instructors.”
–Michael Hayward

MPub does equip us with the knowledge we need to undertake the business of publishing, but having access to such practical expertise from industry professionals, having this unique mix of theory and practice, has always been one of the program’s hallmarks, which we know hasn’t changed over two decades later. Even today we would agree with Nancy that our “best source of knowledge [is] the publishers.”

And to publishers is where most students go for their internships. Curiously, we learned that 25 years ago, when email was still a novelty, all three of the initial graduates each used their internships to work in electronic publishing. Bette helped create a computer-based curriculum for public safety officials with Kwantlen University College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University), Michael worked in Yaletown on an early online magazine, and Nancy, after missing her first choice due to a snail mail application arriving too late, ended up working on a Gopher site for UBC Press—one of only seven presses in North America that had an online presence at the time. The internship and project writing semesters were a cornerstone of the prototype MPub program just as they are today and it’s where MPubbers like us get the chance to be part of the ever evolving, innovative world of publishing.

Certainly, the technical ‘how’ of publishing has changed over the years with ebooks and audiobooks, accessibility technologies, the growing influence of online retailers and the importance of SEO and discoverability in an ever-saturated market. But the ‘why’ of publishing, which all MPubbers are taught, remains largely unchanged; As we, and the first graduates, were repeatedly told, both the definition of and reason for publishing is “to make public.”

“We were exposed to a lot of the debates about who owns what and who controls what and how information circulates and how people can get into that game. You realised that the definition of publishing is to make public, which was told to us a number of times, in that it was a cultural matter and it was a political matter and it was really important and that this power could be a small little entrepreneurial business.”
–Nancy Duxbury

Yes, it is a business that must be profitable but it is also a cultural responsibility, a ‘power’ that can equalize knowledge, representation, and society. This is the dependable throughline we’ve observed while investigating the course of MPub’s tenure. Publishing, and learning its history, has also changed the lens through which we view the world. The progression from oral to scribal histories, from print book to electronic—these are sentiments that our cohort raised during our History of Publishing seminars with Dr. Hannah McGregor. And 25 years later, Bette also still vividly remembers the impact that The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth Eisenstein had during her time in the program. She considers the philosophy fascinating and insightful and recalls the similarities drawn between the hierarchy of the print book—in titles and chapters and subjects and headings—and our society’s own organizational structures.

“It just absolutely fascinated me, that was probably the highlight for me even though I loved every bit of it, but that was just such a worldview.”
–Bette Laughy

Much like the publishing industry itself, MPub will probably never have the luxury of standing still. Right now, we’re bookending these last 25 years of Publishing at SFU, but after 25 more years of MPub our perspective will only mark the halfway point. Yet, even though graduates from 2045 might go on to format entire libraries in brain implants or design hologram titles for new PenguinRandomHouseSimon&SchusterHarperCollins titles, why they publish will remain the same.

Amanda Lastoria Earns the First Publishing PhD in North America

Various AIWL covers


“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Mahima Bhagwat
MPub 2019/20

On November 13, 2019 Amanda Lastoria successfully defended her PhD thesis—The Material Evolution of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: How Book Design and Production Values Impact the Markets for and the Meanings of the Text—and became the first person to be awarded a PhD in Publishing by a North American university.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – Little Simon edition
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 2003. Published by Little Simon, New York.
This copy Lastoria’s collection. Photos by Lastoria.

After completing a master’s program in publishing at Oxford Brookes University (U.K.), Dr. Lastoria worked in publishing houses in the U.K. and Toronto for some years before approaching SFU with the intention to pursue a PhD.

Her doctoral research explored the industrial mediation of the text via the materiality, and material evolution, of the book. Using 46 editions of a single title—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865 – 2015)—as a case study, Dr. Lastoria documented, historicized and interrogated the ways in which the design and production values of the book multiply and diversify the markets for and the meanings of the text. Her project combined methods and tools of bibliography, book history, publishing history, literary theory, and design practice.

Among many other groundbreaking findings that resulted from Dr. Lastoria’s research, she was also the first to recover author Lewis Carroll as the art director of the Victorian editions of Alice.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – Miniature edition, Macmilan
Miniature Edition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1907. Published by Macmillan, London. This copy (1908 reprint) Lastoria’s personal collection. Photos by Lastoria.

Explore more of Dr. Lastoria’s research about Carroll’s art directorial role or read her doctoral thesis for further fascinating facts about Alice.

You can also find Dr. Lastoria on Twitter @amandalastoria

Apply to the MPub Program

Storytime With Jo-Anne Ray


Every MPubber, and every member of  Publishing@SFU knows Jo-Anne. She’s been involved with MPub since it’s inception and the program has, in multiple ways, been built into what it is now through her consistent efforts.

We wouldn’t be here if not for Jo-Anne and no MPub anniversary is complete without her and her hilarious stories. So we took an afternoon to chat and have immortalized some of her terrific tales for you here.

Highlights include the horrific mismatching of attire, some unjust manhandling, a CCTV’d party, and Monday-morning debriefing.

A transcript of these stories is available here.

Program manager Jo-Anne Ray

The road that led to working in the SFU publishing department.

How does beer end up in a filing cabinet, forgotten for months?

You can bet on Jo-Anne to know these things.

Sometimes, sweaty feet are a sacrifice you have to make for fashion.

Let’s reminisce about publishing parties until we can have another!

There are no rules if Jo-Anne says it’s okay.

Jo-Anne exercises her newfound security know-how.

Vibrant – Student Magazine (2005)

Cover of Vibrant – A student magazine developed by the 2004/05 cohort


Spearheaded by Jen Croll and Laraine Coates of the 2004/05 cohort Vibrant materialised as a yearbook-esque publication. Named after a certain running joke in lighthearted honour of Rowly Lorrimer’s textbook, Vibrant but Threatened: Book Publishing in Canada, the single issue magazine included everything from memorable quotes to ‘Most-Likely-To’ awards and semi-scathing class reviews.

Other contributors included Wesley Fok, Jr Ferrer, Susan Pi, Megan Brand, Christine Davidson, and Holland Gidney, along with current MPub faculty and –of course– 2005 MPub valedictorian, David Hasselhoff.


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