Fonts of wisdom: Linda Leith Publications launches a new digital magazine aimed at publishing the work of new English writing in Quebec

“The Canada Council has been trying to get all of us to come up with great digital ideas. This was my digital idea,” says Linda Leith.

“I love magazines,” says Linda Leith. This love, as the author and publisher of Linda Leith Publications notes in her recent memoir, The Girl from Dream City, goes back to her days writing for Quill & Quire and The Canadian Forum and, later, editing the Montreal-based periodical Matrix. Leith’s latest project harkens back to those early days in magazines, with several important differences.

Font, a new multimedia digital magazine, is dedicated to spotlighting the work of young and marginalized English-language writers in Quebec. According to a mission statement on the site, The publication serves to create professional opportunities for new and early-career writers, performers, storytellers, translators, publishers, arts workers, partners, and other leaders working in English and other minority languages.” While Font is focused on literary content, it defines literary broadly: in addition to text, the site includes visual art, film, music, and other recorded material. It also pairs young writers with professional mentors and supports workshops dedicated to developing craft and networking.

“The Canada Council has been trying to get all of us to come up with great digital ideas,” Leith says. “This was my digital idea.”

The inaugural November 2021 issue of Font, dedicated to work by early-career Black writers in Quebec, came about as a partnership between LLP and the Black Community Resource Centre in Montreal. The BCRC contacted Leith about an anthology of eleven essays by young Black writers focusing on the city’s Black history; the facilitators of the anthology wanted to know if Leith would be interested in publishing it. (The answer was yes; Leith hopes the book will be out in fall 2022.) This led to a pair of workshops being run online under the supervision of Montreal poet and educator Deanna Smith; those workshops in turn provided the content for the first issue of Font.

In Leith’s view, this is exactly the way the magazine was intended to work. “It would be great to be able to provide a platform for some of these often really marginalized figures who have had so few chances,” she says. “And not only to publish them, but to pay them.”

Leith applied for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and received what she refers to as a “generous amount” of money that allowed her to hire poet Rachel McCrum as editor alongside two other staffers – digital editor Deanna Radford and copy editor Edward He. Leith and her colleague at LLP, Leila Marshy, sit on a steering committee meant to provide guidance to the magazine as it proceeds. “When [Leith] explained the project, it ticked a lot of boxes for me,“ says McCrum, “in terms of platforms and new writers and supporting writer development, paying writers.”

It helps that McCrum, a native of Northern Ireland and a published poet, is young enough to vividly recall the rigours of gaining a toehold in the literary community in the U.K. “I went through that development, from standing up at open-mic nights and winning a couple of slams to becoming, slightly hilariously, the first BBC Scotland poet in residence, despite not being Scottish,” she says. “I could see the benefits of this kind of organic but professional career building, not just tied to a university. And I wanted to help encourage that.”

While the current round of funding is already in place, McCrum sees potential for expanding the masthead in the future. The Font staff is also working with a number of partner organizations, including the BCRC, in developing content for the magazine. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re working with partners that work with Black and racialized communities, that work with the LGBTQ+ community, that are working across a series of genres so that we can go to them for guidance,” McCrum says. “We want the content to be as adventurous as possible, to be as open as possible. We very much encouraged that with BCRC. The meditations on Black identity, relationship with institutions, relationship with freedom of speech – it’s all in there.”

“With multimedia, we’ve seen a breaking down of that boundary and, I would also say, hierarchy,” says Rachel McCrum. (Photo: Jonathan Lamy)

The other aspect of Font that energizes McCrum is its genre agnostic, multimedia approach. “The idea of English-language literature – of literature as a whole in Canada – is not just tied to text,“ she says. “There are a lot of different traditions, there are a lot of people writing in English for whom English may not be their first language but they’ve chosen to present in it for various reasons. They may not be ‘writing’ – and I’m going to put that in quotes in the broadest sense – in Canadian Standard English. I don’t, certainly.” This willingness to branch out into audio and video allows for a broader range of expression, in McCrum’s mind, and eliminates artificial boundaries between stage and page poetry, writing and performance. “With multimedia, we’ve seen a breaking down of that boundary and, I would also say, hierarchy,” she says. “And I’m really excited for that.”

In order to achieve the array of effects Leith envisioned for the site in her original grant proposal, it was clear that they would need to find a crack design team to build the site. They settled on Montreal’s House9 Design Studio. “We have to give full credit to our amazing design team at House9,“ McCrum says. “We kept throwing possibilities at them and they were going, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ ”

The addition of House9 to the roster of creative talent at Font came about almost accidentally. When Leith was putting together the funding application to the Canada Council, she approached a promising young graduate student at Concordia University who she felt possessed the ideal skill set to design the site. When the funding took longer than expected to come through, he was no longer available, so the team behind Font had to scramble to find a replacement at short notice. It was Radford, Font’s digital editor, who suggested House9, having worked with them in the past. They came on board after the grant went through at the beginning of the summer and created the entire website from scratch in a matter of months.

Both Leith and McCrum feel that the site’s design far exceeds any expectations the editorial group might have had going into the project. “It’s got this real magazine feel. It’s not a blog, it’s not your standard WordPress,” McCrum says. “The design team wanted to create something that was distinctive, that was attractive, that was unique, that was dynamic. And I think they’ve done so way beyond the brief that we extended.”

The early response has been enthusiastic, says Leith, both in regard to the site’s content and the fact that it exists at all. “It’s generating a level of excitement that online magazines don’t always get,” Leith says.

Looking to the future, January’s issue is being run in conjunction with an intergenerational project in Bas-Saint-Laurent, while the March issue features the return of the ImagiNation Writers’ Festival in Quebec City. McCrum’s idea is to pair professional writers attending the festival with younger writers as another way of opening the gates to publication.

It’s early days yet, but initial indications are positive that Font may catch on with a large audience. McCrum knows, however, that the only way to maximize that potential is to provide a steady stream of solid content. “There’s a lot of hope for Font going forward,” she says. “But the proof is going to be in the doing.”

Fonts of wisdom: Linda Leith Publications launches a new digital magazine aimed at publishing the work of new English writing in Quebec