Remembering Dave Godfrey, 1938 – 2015

Dave Godfrey was truly a man of diverse interests and talents. Born in 1938 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he acquired a BA from the University of Iowa and an MA from Stanford University in English literature in the early 1960s. At Stanford he met his future wife, Ellen, and also enrolled in Wallace Stegner’s celebrated creative writing program, numbering among his fellow students soon-to-be famous authors such as Larry McMurtry, Ken Kesey, and Robert Stone. Armed with a subsequent MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, he taught with Canadian University Services Overseas in Ghana in the mid-1960s, then returned to North
America to earn a PhD from the University of Iowa and teach at the University of Toronto.

Godfrey’s two years in Africa provided the inspiration for a number of his short stories and his novel The New Ancestors, which won the Governor General’s Award for fiction in 1970, besting Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business. His time in Africa also introduced him to a powerful and enduring icon — Anansi, the trickster of folktales who often takes the form of a spider. That creature became the colophon for and lent its name to Godfrey’s first venture into publishing: House of Anansi, the small press he co-founded in 1967 with Dennis Lee to publish contemporary Canadian poetry and literary fiction.

Next came New Press in 1970, a company he launched with Roy MacSkimming and James Bacque to publish books on political and social issues. Ever restless and searching, he founded a third publishing venture in the early 1970s with Ellen and moved to Erin, Ontario. Like Anansi, Press Porcépic (renamed Beach Holme Publishing in the early 1990s) focused on poetry and literary fiction with the addition of drama and some non-fiction. In the mid-1970s, the Godfreys took Press Porcépic with them when Godfrey was appointed head of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Victoria, eventually adding to their list young adult titles in the form of the Sandcastle imprint as well as science fiction and children’s picture books.

For Godfrey’s generation the afterglow of centennial year led to a confident and new Canadian nationalism. Godfrey played a major role in developing the Canadian-owned publishing industry. He was a founding member of the Independent Publishers’ Association (later the Association of Canadian Publishers), helped set up the Association for the Export of Canadian Books (now Livres Canada Books), lobbied successfully for federal and provincial government financial support for Canadian-owned publishing houses, and co-authored, with Robert Fulford and Abraham Rotstein, Read Canadian: A Book About Canadian Books, a guide to the best writing about Canada in a number of different areas.

In the 1980s, Godfrey’s creative and ceaseless intellect took him to computers and the role they could play in the cultural industries. He wrote Gutenberg Two: The New Electronics and Social Change, and with Ellen created software for distant learning as well as an Internet service provider company.

After retiring from teaching in the late 1990s, Godfrey turned his attention to wine and became a vintner on Vancouver Island. He is survived by his wife, Ellen, and his daughter, Rebecca, both talented, award-winning authors, and his son, Samuel.

Kirk Howard, President & Publisher, Dundurn
Past President, ACP
July 2015