Saturday, September 29, 2007

Anna Porter: Publishing Political

If you are jailed as a political prisoner at the age of 6, escape on foot from a totalitarian state, attend Catholic boarding school in a foreign language, and scrub toilets at a mental hospital to pay for your higher education, you may be tough enough for the world of publishing, considers Anna Porter. These experiences, among others, certainly helped her to prepare for a successful stint as CEO and founder of Key Porter Books, and are also behind her recent foray into non-fiction.

The newly released Kasztner's Train, is an engaging, thoroughly-researched work of non-fiction, and Anna's 7th book. It is an examination of personal courage in a time of overwhelming moral ambiguity.. The subject matter is weighty and sobering – sentiments that are evident in her voice as she explains the final processes.

"I have tried so hard with this book," she says, "I don't think I have ever tried this hard at anything in my professional life. This book is so important. The questions raised here are timeless – what does a moral person do when faced with injustice? What are we doing about the genocide in Darfur? These are timeless issues, unfortunately. "

Anna moved to New Zealand in 1956 to escape the Hungarian revolution, after living under its increasingly tense and brutal foreshadowing. The family's first attempt to escape the country landed both six-year old Anna and her mother in prison for a few months. Anna was 12 years old when her family successfully walked out of their country.

A Catholic boarding school in New Zealand, administered by nuns, accepted her as their only refugee student. She learned the English language and some semblance of religious training through an unpleasant immersion. At 18 she left the convent school to attend the University of Canterbury. There she completed Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts degrees, both in English Literature. She loved poetry and hers was published in Hungary at a young age.

While a university student, Anna worked first as a maid in a mental hospital and then at a bookstore, owned by a publishing company in New Zealand. Her first job was as a proofreader. She then moved to England and worked in marketing and sales for a larger publishing house, which would prompt a trip to Canada.

She never meant to stay in Toronto, but it has been a successful stint. It was here that she assumed her first editorial role, with McClelland & Stewart at the age of 25. Here she also met her husband to be - a lawyer who, after seeing her photograph on the society pages of Toronto Life magazine, called her repeatedly (even providing references!) until she consented to meet for a coffee. She also became very close to publisher Jack McClelland; an influence and mentor to her throughout her career.

In her first ten years of Canadian life she became president and publisher of Seal Books, a company partially founded by McClelland & Stewart. Like her mentor and friend Jack, Anna developed close relationships with Canadian authors, most of whom remain her friends today. By 1979, Anna knew every facet of the industry and was at ease when launching her own business, Key Porter Books.

Her most recent book, Kasztner's Train, required Anna to read over 300 books in 3 languages, find and read primary documents, and to travel all over the world for interviews. The film rights have been bought, and she is working on 100 additional footnotes for the American release. Anna is convinced that she is more familiar with the subject of her book than anyone in the world, including his own family. That subject is Rezso Kasztner, who directly negotiated for the lives of 1684 Jewish Europeans, and saved an additional 20 000 more during the Holocaust. Like many issues surrounding the topic of genocide, the means and extent to which Kasztner acted is controversial. Anna is convinced that he is a hero. But she is ready for the acclaim and accusations that will come.

Her own dedication to personal ethics is evident in the grand array of Canadian associations with whom she is involved. Soulpepper Theatre, Schulich School of Business, World Wildlife Fund and PEN Canada continue to benefit from her input and intellect. In 1992, Anna Porter was awarded the Order of Canada for her efforts to promote Canadian literary talent abroad. She has been awarded Honorary Doctoral degrees from Ryerson University, St, Mary's University, and the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Published Women's Post, October 5 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

TIFF Tastemakers Lounge Goes Green

Amidst a whirlwind of red carpets and black-tie events at the Toronto International Film Festival, celebrities were spotted resting in their natural habitat at the Tastemakers Celebrity Gift Lounge. The eco-glam theme attracted visiting talent who were happy to escape the festival madness for the body-pampering, conscience-boosting luxury of the Portman Room at the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville Hotel.

The lounge was a place where visiting talent could relax, receive final touches on their makeup, find a quick snack, and most importantly, pick out their own swag from an enormous selection of products. This year marked its third appearance at the festival, but it was the first time the lounge seemed to come alive - literally. That is due largely to the creative and strategic vision of Rock-it Promotions president, Debra Goldblatt, who also developed and managed the space.

“There has never been a better trend then everybody attempting to go GREEN,” Goldblatt explains, “We not only wanted to continue providing a great Canadian lounge to visit, but during a week of frivolity and fun, use this opportunity to support a charity and continue educating others!”

HGTV’s Designer Guys were responsible for decorating the 1251 square foot space, as well as planning and securing all of the furnishing rentals. A living wall was erected in the center of the room in order to manage the space, and as an integral part of the overall design. The E.L.T. (elevated landscape technology) was literally a wall of live plants, flowers, and the occasional spider. Reflecting a secondary goal of the lounge - to promote Canadian talent and product - the living wall was provided by Ontario-based company, ELT Easy Green.

The attention to detail, and commitment to purpose, was evident. Every piece of the room had a natural feel and eco-conscious element, including the cork floors provided by Carpet One, a red salvaged-branch chandelier courtesy of Atelier, and giant art installations made of insulated concrete forms from Greenblock. The existing lighting in the room was offset by Eurolite and Bullfrog Power, a company devoted to providing 100% green power in Ontario and Alberta. The furnishings were selected from several companies and included Felt, a company that relies on plush recycled materials and the creative talent of artist Kathryn Walter, and the upscale, re-used aluminum line, Klaus by Nienkämper. Other design and furnishing providers were Urban Tree Salvage, Relative Space, Mio, and Brothers Dressler, who custom-made furniture out of rescued materials and using eco-friendly manufacturing techniques. As if a swanky, organic room filled with celebrities and Cadbury chocolate was not enough entertainment, interactive stations were provided by Smashbox Cosmetics, Greg May Hair Architects and others.

Major media sponsors eTalk, Inside Entertainment, and were thrilled to have exclusive access to the celebrities, who were in turn delighted to receive a plethora of unique, high-end gifts from Canadian retailers. Companies lucky enough to have been invited to participate will see glamorous, world-famous celebs touting their products across the pages of magazines by next week. Among those products were Adria Vasil’s popular book, EcoHolic, Dermaglow skincare products, Domo Tea, Joe Fresh Kids Organic clothing, and Otazu Jewelry. It is the fine work of Debra Goldblatt that during one of the most important cultural events in the country, the World Wildlife Fund-Canada could garner attention and resources for one of the most important issues of our time.

Published BizBash.T.O., September 21 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

End of Summer Fun at the Bargain Hunter's Picnic

The Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation was centre stage on Sunday, Aug. 26 at the 1st Annual Bargain Hunter's Picnic in Toronto. The event brought together over 500 loyal readers of Canada's largest online bargain-hunting community, A coupon-crazy crowd waited at the gates of Varsity Stadium while the final touches for the massive event were still underway. Despite the disappointment of an inexplicable "no-show" by the company hired to provide bouncy castles and cotton candy for the kids, the event was a success. Benjamin Clost and his band, The Mariners, pleased the crowd with their soulful cover tunes while DJ company Sights 'n' Sounds kept the mood upbeat. In the beautiful afternoon sunshine, dozens of energetic children enjoyed free kites, frisbees, board games, and footballs while the majority of the crowd, fanatical fans of, enjoyed meeting each other for the first time in real life. A gourmet barbeque meal was served and gift bags handed out to donors.

Derek Szeto, President of, hosted the event in appreciation of its active online community and as a chance to raise awareness for a good cause. Sponsors included 7th Stage Productions, Men's Power Spa,, Steam Whistle Brewery, Listerine, BBQ Catering and, of course, the Women's Post.

Published Women's Post, September 7 2007