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 – from Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father to Samin Nosrat’s new cookery classic Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. 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 Lanark 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 remains a vibrant and important part of our identity. In 2008, a reprint of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain found massive, unexpected success, finally earning this classic of nature writing the audience it deserves. Shepherd has since become 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, individual books of the Bible with striking introductions by public figures from Doris Lessing to the Dalai Lama, announced a completely new kind of publishing for Canongate: diverse, 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 books from Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. 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.
From Rebecca Solnit to Gil Scott-Heron, and Philip Pullman to Annie Dillard, 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 carry 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, with the hardback featuring one of the world’s first augmented reality covers, with beautiful artwork, a peelable sticker and an exposed spine. The novel 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.
We’re extremely proud to have worked with lots of authors who, in their books and beyond, have fought and campaigned for what they believe in.
From Patrisse Khan-Cullors (co-founder of Black Lives Matter) and James Rhodes (who went to the Supreme Court for the right to talk about his own abuse, and has helped transform child protection laws in Spain)…
Canongate is drawn to publishing polymaths, from neuroscientist and short story writer David Eagleman, to filmmaker, artist and novelist Miranda July, to poet, playwright and bestselling memoirist Lemn Sissay, to 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 600,000 copies, and has been published in 30 countries worldwide.