Randy Fred, founder of Theytus Books, Canada's first Aboriginal publishing house, is this year's recipient of the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service to the publishing and writing community of British Columbia.
Fred was presented with the award, which is given by the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia (ABPBC), on April 7 at a dinner at The Fish House restaurant in Stanley Park. The award honors Fred's significant contribution to British Columbia publishing, and is presented every year in memory of the late Gray Campbell, one of British Columbia's first trade publishers.
Fred founded Theytus books in 1980 while living in Nanaimo. He had been involved with several projects at Malaspina College and had created the Quan-a-ts-tal Media Society newsletter.
Theytus is a Salishan word meaning "preserving for the sake of handing down." In 1981, Theytus released four titles: a paperback reprint of Robert Kroetsch's novel Gone Indian; Ellen White's Kwulasulwut: Stories From the Coast Salish; Charles Jones and Stephen Bosustow's Queesto:
Pacheenaht Chief by Birthright; and Teachings of the Tides: Uses of Marine Invertebrates by the Manhousaht People by David Ellis and Luke Swan.
When his promised two-year funding, through what was then Manpower Canada, faced government cutbacks after the first year, Fred faced some tough decisions about the financial direction of the press. He approached the Okanagan Indian Curriculum Project to acquire the company. The OICP, in turn, approached the five bands of the Merritt area, represented by the Nicola Valley Indian Administration. The Okanagan and Nicola councils each took 50 per cent ownership of the publishing company. By 1987, Theytus Books had published 32 titles, and the press continues to publish today.
After having resided in both Nanaimo and Penticton, Fred returned to Vancouver in the mid-1980s. It was then that he became involved in another organization that specialized in B.C.
First Nations material: the Tillicum Library, for Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver. In the early days of Theytus, Fred had required some technical assistance with the production and layout of a book, and found an ad for Arsenal Pulp Press, who were then offering desktop publishing services. Steve Osborne, Arsenal's publisher, allowed Fred to come and use the equipment after hours, and they often stayed together and worked into the night on their respective titles. The two struck up an enduring friendship.
"When we moved back to Vancouver," said Fred, "we actually rented Steve's basement for while."
Fred went on to later found and publish two newspapers, Strait Arrow and Mid Island Advocate. Most recently, he and his wife Edith have established a commercial salmon smoking business, Simptew Smoked Salmon.
Randy Fred's connections to Gray Campbell extend farther back than simply being a recipient of the award. Campbell, who owned Gray's Publishing in Sidney, was the publisher of Fred's late uncle, George Clutesi. Clutesi was the celebrated author of several bestselling titles, including Son of Raven, Son of Deer (1967), and Potlatch (1969). Son of Raven was purchased by the thousands by the Department of Education, and remains in print as the first significant West Coast title about Aboriginal culture to be authored by an Aboriginal.
Fred also has ties to another former Gary Campbell winner, Nanaimo bookseller Thora Howell.
"It was in the upstairs of her bookstore that Theytus had their first office," said Fred. "Thora was a great supporter of our work from the start."
When he looks back on his experiences in publishing, Fred says he feels lucky.
"The most fortunate thing was the good timing. We had access to funding that was only temporary. I'm happy to see that Theytus is still producing books. Publishing is not an easy business to run, and it's not an easy business to maintain. But there's a lot of satisfaction in seein a product come to fruition," he said.
When asked about his thoughts on publishing's future, he first acknowledges the importance to cultural preservation.
"I do think it's easier today; it's more feasible to take risks. I would say that technology makes it more accessible for everyone. But despite the technology that's out there now, people still read and love paper. Many people tell me that there's still nothing better than a paper book to hold in your hands."
- 1558 views