Since 1973 we’ve worked to unearth and amplify the most vital, exciting voices we can find, wherever they come from, and we’ve published all kinds of books – thoughtful, upsetting, gripping, beatific, vulgar, chaste, unrepentant, life-changing…
Along the way there have been landmarks of fiction – including Alasdair Gray’s masterpiece Lanark, and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the best-ever-selling Booker winner – and non-fiction too. We’ve published an American president and a Guantanamo detainee; we’ve campaigned for causes we believe in and fought court cases to get our authors heard. And twice we’ve won Publisher of the Year.
We’re fiercely independent, and we’re as committed to unorthodox and innovative publishing as ever.
Alasdair Gray’s seminal book was an early milestone for Canongate, a novel that changed the literary landscape in Scotland and typifies the kind of fiction that Canongate loves and continues to look for. Time has done nothing to lessen the power, imaginative brilliance and beauty of this landmark publication by the man described by Ali Smith as a “necessary genius”.
Canongate spent its first two decades publishing many wonderful Scottish writers. Today the company works with authors from all over the world, but that national tradition – and every book in our backlist – remains alive and vibrant. In 2008, a short-run reprint of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain led to it becoming one of Canongate’s bestselling backlist books and made Shepherd a posthumous superstar. She’s now the first woman ever to appear on a main issue Scottish bank note.
Following a buyout in 1994, Canongate broadened its focus beyond Scotland and Scottish literature. The Pocket Canons, which published individual books of the Bible with introductions from public figures including Bono and the Dalai Lama, announced a completely new kind of publishing for Canongate: diverse, youthful, radical and global.
In 2007, Canongate published the memoirs of a little-known US politician. Barack Obama’s memoirs would become a bestseller before his race to the White House had even begun. But Dreams from My Father has gone on to sell over two million copies, Canongate’s biggest-selling book since Life of Pi.
And In 2005 Canongate launched a series of reimagined myths with Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. Unveiled at the Frankfurt Book Fair with editions published simultaneously in 32 countries around the world, the series went on to feature such luminaries as Philip Pullman, Ali Smith, AS Byatt, Michel Faber, David Grossman and Alexander McCall Smith.
Literary prize-winners and US presidents are all very well, but in 2008 Canongate found its silly side when it went on a journey through time and space with The Mighty Book of Boosh. It was a madcap visual feast, of stories, comics, art and lunacy. (And sold a mighty quarter of a million copies in one Christmas). Other comic bestsellers weren’t far behind…
In 2009, there was the first of many Simon’s Cat books – featuring quite possibly the internet’s favourite cat (yes, there’s a lot of competition, but it’s hard to argue with 850 million YouTube views)…
From Rebecca Solnit to Gil Scott-Heron, and Philip Pullman to Margaret Atwood, the only thing that links the books on our Canons list is that once you’ve read them, they’re impossible to forget. They come from unexpected perspectives, or carrying incredible stories: some are classics already, the rest will be soon.
Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being was published simultaneously in every format and pushed boundaries as a physical artifact, offering one of the world’s first augmented reality covers, with beautiful artwork, a peelable sticker and an exposed spine. It went on to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Our passion for the books we publish often spills beyond their pages. In 2011, Canongate CEO Jamie Byng founded World Book Night to encourage reading. And Letters Live, inspired by Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note and Simon Garfield’s To The Letter, has become an on-going celebration of the art of letter-writing through performance.
Canongate is drawn to publishing polymaths, be it neuroscientist Dave Eagleman’s short stories, filmmaker and artist Miranda July’s novels, or David Byrne, who is best known as a musician, but has also worked in film, photography, art and theatre. We follow our authors wherever they want to go next, and support them in whatever they want to do.
Matt Haig is another author with varied talents, writing bestselling novels for adults, as well as children’s books. And in 2015, his Reasons to Stay Alive became a huge part of a growing national conversation around mental health awareness. It has been a top ten bestseller for more than 40 weeks, sold more than 300,000 copies, and has been published in 30 countries worldwide.