Canada has lost one of its groundbreaking feminist publishers. Luciana Ricciutelli, editor-in-chief at Toronto’s Inanna Publications, died on December 14 at the age of 62. A survivor of breast cancer, Ricciutelli died suddenly a few weeks after her cancer resurfaced, according to a letter circulated in tandem by the family and Inanna.
One of Canada’s oldest dedicated feminist presses, Inanna publishes a wide range of women’s voices in both fiction and nonfiction. It also publishes the feminist journal Canadian Women’s Studies/Les cahiers de la femme. During her 28-year tenure with the press, Ricciutelli developed the educational book publishing program that launched in 1996 and was responsible for inaugurating Inanna’s trade fiction and poetry lists in 2004. Authors who appeared with Inanna under Ricciutelli’s aegis include Rishma Dunlop, Carol Rose GoldenEagle, Nora Gold, Carole Giangrande, Adebe DeRango Adem, Ursula Pflug, and Kay Armatage.
“With Luciana’s passing, the Canadian publishing industry has lost a tireless and fierce champion of women’s rights, feminist thought, and feminist writing,” says Hazel Millar, co-publisher of Book*hug Press.
“Something that I admired so much about her was her open-mindedness to feminism. Sometimes I would send her manuscripts and I’d wonder, ‘Is it the right kind of feminism?’ ” says longtime Inanna author Lisa de Nikolits. “But the thing with Luciana is there wasn’t a kind of feminism, it was just the power of the feminist message. And that was what made her such a joy to work with.”
In an interview with Truman State University’s Jocelyn Cullity (also an Inanna author) earlier this year, Ricciutelli spoke about her approach to feminist publishing. “Our priorities are to publish literary books, in particular by fresh, new voices, that are intellectually rigorous, speak to women’s hearts, and tell truths about the lives of the broad diversity of women – smart books for people who want to read and think about real women’s lives,” she said.
One of the driving forces behind Inanna’s success is the fact that Ricciutelli was doing intersectional publishing before that even became a buzz term. She published the debut novels by Farzana Doctor and Carrianne Leung, the latter of which – The Wondrous Woo – went on to be nominated for the Toronto Book Award. Ricciutelli emphasized to Cullity the importance of bringing attention to the work of underserved writers or writers who were often left out of the spotlight by mainstream publishers. “We have always been particularly interested in ensuring that the voices of disenfranchised and marginalized women are heard and we are committed to working closely with talented, emerging writers, as well as established writers.”
Ami Sands Brodoff, an Inanna novelist with a forthcoming title, The Sleep of Apples, slated for fall 2021, emphasizes Ricciutelli’s commitment to publishing the work of underrepresented authors. “She was a superb editor and passionate advocate for writing by women from marginalized communities,” Brodoff says. “Lu discovered and took a chance on new young voices and reserved space for older women authors who are often overlooked in publishing.”
Ricciutelli’s passion for publishing these writers was accompanied by unstinting attention to their work and a deep care and affection for the women themselves. “She was so patient and I learned so much from her,” says de Nikolits. “She loved us all like family and children and sisters. She was like a mentor, best friend, sister, editor, and publisher.”
If there is one word that keeps appearing in descriptions of Ricciutelli, it is the word “generous.” Friends and colleagues – and even other publishers who would technically have been considered competitors – remember Ricciutelli as a warmly welcoming person always willing to share her wisdom and experience. In an online memorial registry, Amanda Crocker, managing editor at the leftist publisher Between the Lines, writes, “[W]e relied on each other for feedback and advice over email, on the phone, or over lunch. When you work at a small press, you don’t have a whole department of colleagues to bounce ideas off, ask how they do things. We provided that support for each other. And she was the very best person to gripe with when things weren’t going well.”
Ricciutelli was also deeply involved in small-press advocacy, serving on the board of the Literary Press Group and speaking out passionately in support of independent publishers in Canada. “She was an inspiration. I admired her so much,” says Laura Rock Gaughan, executive director of the LPG. “When I think of her, I think of wise counsel.”
Holly Kent, executive director of the Ontario Book Publishers Organization, remembers Ricciutelli as a stalwart figure on the Canadian literary scene and a down-to-earth, compassionate colleague who always had time for her fellow workers in the publishing trenches. “It would be difficult to overstate Luciana’s contribution to independent publishing and feminist literature in Canada, but what I’ll remember about her is her warmth, positivity, and generosity,” Kent says. “She always had time to chat or give advice. I’m going to miss her smiling face.”
It’s a sentiment that Brodoff, who calls Ricciutelli “a powerhouse,” echoes. “She had a big heart, a warm smile, a deep laugh, and a largeness of spirit those who have worked with her will never forget,” Brodoff says.
In a bittersweet note, the family and publisher’s letter states that Ricciutelli was looking forward to retirement and had put in place measures to ensure a smooth transition when the time finally came to leave Inanna. “Our timeline is accelerated, but our commitment to her, our authors, our organization, our journal, our press, and the larger community remains the same. The Inanna staff and Board are committed to ensuring that Inanna remains a vibrant force in the publishing community,” the letter reads.
While Ricciutelli will be deeply missed by those who knew her, the stamp she placed on the Canadian publishing landscape remains indelible, and her spirit of rugged optimism and promotion of women’s writing will continue to inspire those who follow her. It is by focusing on her example, not her passing, that her memory can best be served, says de Nikolits. “The best way to honour Luciana is to not be flailing around on the floor in tears because that’s not what she would have wanted. But to move forward and keep on representing all the things that she stood for.”
Update, Thursday, December 17, 6:03 p.m.: This post has been updated to include a comment from Book*hug’s Hazel Millar.