A-R International: Anna Porter

Anna Porter
Authors-Readers International

Anna Porter has been one of Canada’s most respected book publishers for 30 years. She was co-founder of Key Porter Books, a leading book publishing house, with a wide-ranging and varied list that includes such authors as: Farley Mowat, Allan Fotheringham, Howard Engel, Joan Barfoot, Fred Bruemmer, Norman Jewison, Hume Cronyn, George Jonas, Margaret Atwood, Jean Chretien, Sylvia Fraser, Modris Eksteins, Dennis Lee, John Keegan, Martin Gilbert, Irving Abella, Harry Bruce, Josef Skvorecky, Italo Calvino, William Trevor, Freeman Patterson, Conrad Black, and many others. She sold her interest in the company in 2004 to H.B. Fenn Limited. Well known in the publishing world, she was a regular at international book fairs.

Through the 1990s she served on the Federal Government-appointed Information Highway Council and, subsequently, on the E-Business Round-Table. She served on the Council of the Association of Canadian Publishers and was, once, president of the Association.

She is an Officer of The Order of Canada and has been awarded the Order of Ontario.

Anna was born in Budapest, Hungary. She was educated in New Zealand (BA and MA at Canterbury University, Christchurch) and began her publishing career as a junior editor at Cassell and Company, London, England. She emigrated to Canada in 1970, and worked at McClelland & Stewart for several years before starting Key Porter Books with Michael de Pencier’s Key Publishers.

She has some honorary degrees. She reads and speaks five languages adequately but not brilliantly.

She is married to Julian Porter, Q.C. and has two daughters and four grandchildren.

Anna Porter has lectured and given speeches throughout Canada and elsewhere. A few of her recent topics: the importance of culture and the arts; the future of the book in an electronic age; freedom of speech and why anyone should care about it; morality in times of war; the Holocaust in Hungary; the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and its aftermath; book publishing in Europe and the United States; stories from the past: those who built the Canlit we know today; how literature informs our lives and how to get published; about Europe 1989-2010; restitution and remembrance: the ghosts of central Europe.


When I first signed on to be a sales rep for Stanton & MacDougall, Key Porter Books was one of the publishers the sales agency sold, so I met Anna Porter at my first sales conference in May 1989. I had long known about Key Porter Books, however, having been a bookseller for many years, and I knew their list of solid bestselling Canadian books by authors who were, or were about to become, household names to everyone across Canada. Those KPB sales conferences were held in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall (Classy!!! Just have a look at these photos!) and we always left the conferences with some pretty fabulous books to sell to the booksellers and librarians. I had the opportunity too to meet, and squire around, many of those authors whenever they came to Calgary on promotion tours. One memory that stuck with me from 1994 was when KPB published a new book, A Nation Too Good To Lose by Joe Clark, the former Prime Minister of Canada! At that time, Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer, were living in Calgary – my sales territory! I was able to arrange with KPB for Clark to speak at a regional meeting of managers from one of the national book store chains, and I accompanied him to that engagement. Now THAT was pretty cool!

But it’s Anna Porter’s most recent non-fiction book she’s published that I really wanted to talk about here. I read the book immediately after it was released and I was immediately immersed back into that time of my life when bookselling and sales repping figured large. So much information, so many personalities, so many books and authors, so many memories! Thanks so much for this book, Anna!


In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time

In Other Words is a lively, charming, gossipy memoir of life in the publishing trenches and how one restlessly curious young woman sparked a creative awakening in a new country she chose to call home.

When Anna Porter arrived in Canada in early 1968 with one battered suitcase, little money and a head full of dreams, she had no idea that this country would become her home for the rest of her life, or that she would play a major role in defining what it means to be Canadian. And where better to become a Canadian than at the dynamic publishing house, McClelland & Stewart, an epicentre of cultural and artistic creation in post-Expo Canada?

Anna Porter’s story takes you behind the scenes into the non-stop world of Jack McClelland, the swashbuckling head of M&S whose celebrated authors — Leonard Cohen, Margaret Laurence, Pierre Berton, Peter C. Newman, Irving Layton, Margaret Atwood — dominated bestseller lists. She offers up first-hand stories of struggling young writers (often women); of prima donnas, such as Roloff Beny and Harold Town, whose excesses threatened to sink the company; of exhausted editors dealing with intemperate writers; of crazy schemes to interest Canadians in buying books. She recalls the thrilling days at the helm of the company she founded in the 1980s, when Canada’s writers were suddenly front-page news. As president of Key Porter Books, she dodged lawsuits, argued with bank managers, and fought to sell Canadian authors around the world. This intriguing memoir brings to life that time in our history when — finally — the voices Canadians craved to hear were our own.

In Other Words is a love letter to Canada’s authors and creative agitators who, against almost impossible odds, have sustained and advanced the nation’s writing culture. Moving effortlessly from the boardrooms of Canada’s elite and the halls of power in Ottawa, to the threadbare offices of idealistic young publishers and, ultimately, to her own painful yet ever-present past in Hungary, Porter offers an unforgettable insider’s account of what is gained—and lost—in a lifetime of championing our stories.

Anna Porter is also the author of four other non-fiction books, including Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy, The Ghosts of Europe, winner of the Shaughnessey Cohen Prize for Political Writing, Kasztner’s Train: The True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust, winner of the 2007 Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Award and of the Jewish Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the The Storyteller: A Memoir of Secrets, Magic and Lies. She has also written four novels: The Appraisal, Hidden Agenda, Mortal Sins, and Bookfair MurdersBookfair Murders was made into a feature film. Ms Porter’s books have been published internationally and in several languages.

Anna Porter is interviewed about her book, In Other Words, on TVO’s The Agenda.

For more information about Anna Porter and her books, please see her website.

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