Dennis Johnson and Red Deer Press

Right now I’m blogging as an impetus to inspire me toward something more challenging. Blogging brings me into a circle of friends somehow, however illusory, and so I relax my prose just a little. It limbers me up but there’s also a requisite need that I not slide into sloppy.

I’m blogging right now with hopes I’ll land my lede and carry forth into the finale of the next obituary I’m writing and must file by day’s end. Typically, these ledes are killers. Just thinking about positioning those first few words on a clean screen while my head swims with quotes, stories, and all kinds of information, threatens to shove me off kilter and away from task-at-hand. Too often, you’ll find me in scrubbing the bathtub, or in the kitchen nibbling, or outside chipping away at ice.

But this time–this time I’ll write the lede for you and then, once engines rev up, I’ll return to Word and complete the piece. When it’s published I’ll link it in here voila

The obituary I’m working on is about a man who gave his life to book publishing. He died in Mexico a few weeks ago, at age 58, working at his computer.

Dennis Johnson was a veritable Napoleon to Alberta’s Red Deer Press. He was an edgy little man who never slept and often grumped about. He wore three-piece suits, waistcoats, and cufflinks and as publisher he battled endless adversaries for the good cause of books. He even told his former partner, Pat Couture,   “If I accomplish nothing else, maybe I’ll at least get an obit in the The Globe and Mail.”

That last bit, about the Globe, I won’t include in the published piece but it’s nice to have it in here. Because it’s true. He did say this and now it will happen for him. I’m glad to include it here.

Back in the 1980s, Johnson was given a tiny budget and a big mandate to rejuvenate a floundering small press. Under his leadership Red Deer Press was honoured six times as Publisher of the Year by the book Publishers Association of Alberta, and received over 300 other provincial, national, and international credits, including a Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature Illustration. Johnson served as president of the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, and was honoured by the City of Red Deer with a Mayor’s Special Award in 1992.

I’ll end with a quote from Johnson. “The real threat is not whether publishing is going to exist in Canada, but whether Canada is going to exist in publishing.”

I’m ready to migrate to Word now.

More on Dennis Johnson up ahead…please keep in touch.

[photo is by one of Red Deer’s authors: Kristjana Gunners]

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About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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2 Responses to Dennis Johnson and Red Deer Press

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks, Noreen. Another interesting person to write about. Good luck with your “lede” — I always thought it was “lead”. (?)

  2. Diana Wong says:

    It has been just over a year since Dennis passed away. I have been sitting here reading all the things I could online about his life. He was a friend for so many years. Reading what others had to say about him is intriguing and it brings his memory closer to me. Thank you for what you wrote about him.

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