Literature can be much more intimate and private than visual or performance art. But for Concordia graduate Ashley Opheim, literature is the focal point of community. Her community is self-built: An independent publishing company called Metatron, established in 2013.
When Opheim was studying creative writing at Concordia in 2012, she wondered why the literature community hadn’t flourished in the same way as music did in Montreal. She began organizing a series of reading events called “This is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not.” After many successful readings, Opheim and a group of other students were awarded a grant from Emploi Quebec that funded youth creative ventures. Opheim then turned her focus to growing Metatron into a company that published small chapbooks—staple bound paperbacks under 48 pages—rather than just event planning.
Over the past 3 years, Metatron has published 15 books, 12 chapbooks, and organized 33 readings. The company distributes in small bookstores in Montreal—such as The Word on rue Milton —and Toronto, as well as selling their works online.
For Opheim, what sets Metatron apart as a publishing company is its focus on nurturing young writers and validating their experiences.
“There are so many talented writers [in Montreal] who are young and not technically qualified enough to have a book out with a bigger press,” Opheim explained.
Opheim reminisced about Alt Lit, a—now defunct—online community that had inspired her around the time she began organizing the reading series.
“When I discovered [Alt Lit], it was kind of just writers who were writing, and they weren’t trying to be like anyone. They weren’t trying to be like Ernest Hemingway,” Opheim said. “They were kind of just like ‘this is my life and I’m gonna write a poem about toaster strudels,’ […] it wasn’t taking itself so seriously.”
This kind of writing continues to inspire Opheim. She feels that humour and authenticity of experience are at the heart of the work Metatron publishes.
“I feel like the books that we do are all relatable in a really fun way,” she explained. “I feel like people can open the books and see themselves in [them]. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing. [In] the world we live in, being able to see yourself in someone else, regardless of gender and race, is so powerful. And I don’t think there’s many things that exist in the world where that is a possibility.”
Opheim strongly believes that the most powerful writing comes from within, when a writer is true to how they feel. She is devoted to encouraging writers to express those feelings.
“I feel like when people are able to write an emotion that is true, it becomes universal,” Opheim said. “As human beings, as nuanced and different as we are, I still think like there are experiences that are very similar for everyone [….]. Feelings of alienation are very prevalent in contemporary writing by younger writers.”
Inclusivity and shared experience are the founding principles of Metatron. Opheim explains that for many artists, especially ones practicing the often private and introspective art of writing, a community is an essential motivating factor.
“Being part of a community like Metatron […] gives you an incentive and inspiration to keep on working,” she said. “[…] The people we actually publish, after their book comes out, I just literally see them blossom into these writers who are taking themselves more seriously and performing better.”
Opheim’s goal of creating a literature scene in Montreal was possible largely due to what she calls the palpable “spirit of creativity” in the city.
“I really feel that Montreal is the place to be if you’re a young creative,” Opheim said. “It’s such a fucking radical place.”