With his years of experience and a passion for books, Bruce Walsh helped transform a small prairie publishing house into a power house.
Walsh, director and publisher of University of Regina Press (U of R Press), was born and raised in Nova Scotia and has lived across the country, in Calgary, Quebec City, Toronto, Montreal and now Regina.
At age 11, struggling with his sexuality, Walsh was contemplating suicide. Then one day he came home to find his mother lying on the couch, crying and reading a book with the fireplace lit in the background. When he asked her why she was crying she told him about the book she was reading, Mila 18 by Leon Uris, which was about the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto.
“I never heard of anything like that in my life,” says Walsh. “She told me about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Jews and the Nazis.
“It shifted my entire world and I thought if the Germans were that wrong about the Jews then maybe society was at wrong about me,” he says. “[I] was a little homosexual child who was taught by society that I was a pervert…and our culture of course told us that the solution to that was to kill yourself. That was the message to all gay youth.”
That moment with his mother changed everything. He decided he wasn’t going to take his life but instead he was going to find out everything about the Holocaust, the Germans, the Jews and the Nazis. He read everything he could find that was when he discovered his passion for reading, all kinds of books.
“That is why I’m in publishing,” he says. “Because I know that books can change and save lives. It did it for me, so I want to do it for other people.”
Walsh started his career in publishing at Oxford University Press as a sales representative. He travelled around talking about the new books that were coming out. He also worked at Routledge, McGill-Queen's University Press, literary press groups and other organizations. Everywhere he worked, he doubled and even tripled sales.
Working as the director of marketing at McClelland & Stewart, Walsh was given credit for its first profitable year, and he got to work with Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen, and other famous Canadian authors.
He knew he wanted to keep working in book publishing, and then he heard about an opportunity in Regina as the publisher with the Canadian Plains Research Centre (CPRC) which is now called the U of R Press.
“When I moved here, I knew what we could do here because I’ve done it before. I’ve been a part of changing things and I understand how things happen,” he says.
The U of R Press launched its first book, Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk, which became the bestselling academic book this century.
Daschuk, a University of Regina associate professor and historian in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, thought his book project was dead prior to Walsh’s arrival. But Walsh saw his book’s potential.
“He’s been out mentoring other university publishers and [they are] seeing that academic books can sell and there’s an appetite, especially for the Indigenous books,” says Daschuk. “Bruce is getting the word out there and doing an awesome job.”
Donna Grant, the Senior Editor at U of R Press, was working at the publishing house when it was known as CPRC. Over the years, she watched the small prairie publishing house transform into a recognized publishing house.
“I've learned so much from Bruce since he came to the press four years ago,” she says. “He is energetic and enthusiastic, and he really champions our authors and their books. He's a master at identifying what is compelling about a book, at seeing the kernel of truth that will resonate with people,” says Grant.
“This is why our authors have been interviewed on CBC radio and featured in the Globe and Mail. This is why we now have some books that are being translated into Korean and Japanese. Bruce has taken this humble prairie Press and put it (and its authors) onto a national and international stage.”
Since the formation of the U of R Press, Walsh and his publishing team published six national bestsellers, established a book series called The Exquisite Corpse, started the First Nations Language Readers Series, The Regina Collection, Oskana Poetry & Poetics, and Digestions. Their recently released book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (And Yours) by Harold Johnson has sold close to 10,000 copies in the three-months since its release.
“We’ve only just begun,” says Walsh. “At three and a half years, we are a baby in this publishing world. The question is, can we keep it up? I think we ca