Created in the early 1970s by a group of left-leaning Vancouver writers, New Star Press coalesced midway through the decade under the direction of editor and publisher Lanny Beckman. By 1987, when New Star took on the manuscript that would become Shrink Resistant, Rolf Maurer, Catherine Ludgate and Barbara Pulling were also working at the press. Audrey McClellan, who joined New Star the following year, took the lead on publicizing the book when it came out. The Shrink Resistant project, while the first volume New Star had published on anti-psychiatry, fit well with press’ focus on current events, politics, and social issues.
Bonnie and Don recall that Lanny Beckman heard about their successful Explorations grant in 1985 and sent out the first feeler to Don and Bonnie about the possibility of New Star publishing their book. As the interviews and documents gathered for this exhibit demonstrate, interpretations of the past are refracted and reshaped by multiple narratives and many silences. Documentary evidence of this first communication has not survived, Lanny has no memory of approaching the editors, and David Reville suggests that the editors located Lanny.
Bonnie on hearing from Lanny:
Lanny’s involvement in the project poses several interesting questions about New Star’s publication of Shrink Resistant. In the early 1970s Lanny had been a leading figure in forming the highly successful MPA , Canada’s first peer-support organization, and a very public spokesperson for the survivor movement. Don himself had visited MPA and met Lanny in 1973. Both Bonnie and David Reville suggest that Lanny’s support for the collection was critical to New Star’s decision to publish. Certainly, the publication of Shrink Resistant served to reengage Lanny with the topic of mental health after more than a decade away from the movement. In a September 1988 letter to Don and Bonnie about promotion plans, Lanny put out two ideas for related publications on mental health – one a political economy of psychiatry and the other a study of the social contract between psychiatry and the Canadian state. The following month he wrote to David Reville inquiring about the possibility of New Star publishing the incarceration journal excerpted in the collection as a separate volume. Lanny also published a number of articles on mental health and psychiatry in the late 1980s, including an article about Allan Memorial psychiatrist Ewen Cameron in Canadian Dimension (1988), two pieces in the progressive BC Jewish publication New Directions and Mental Illness for Beginners (1989), and A Brief History of Trouble in Mind (1991), both published in This Magazine.
Setting the press’ initial assessments of the manuscript sections submitted by Don and Bonnie alongside one another, Lanny’s enthusiasm for the project is evident. While he acknowledged the variable quality of the selections, Lanny argued that, “together they produce a powerful account of the lives and worlds of mental patients,” noting that his expertise in the field made him appreciate the value of the work. Looking at the manuscript through a feminist lens, New Star’s Barbara Pulling was concerned that the impressionistic poetic and journal submissions of the female contributors gave the factual accounts of male authors more authority, adding that a concluding section of activist accounts would bring the book into the present. But in May 1987 New Star agreed to go ahead with the book and by mid-July a contract had been signed by both parties.
Lanny had noted the need for a better title in his first assessment of the manuscript, but this proved elusive until shortly before publication. The cover image was also a problem, with Bonnie and Don rejecting New Star’s design as lacking a human element and reference to the key theme of struggle and resistance. The distinctive black cover, with green and purple figures drawn by an unknown American artist moving from solitary confinement to collective solidarity, was a happy compromise for the editors. The book went to the printers on July 7, 1988.