Alumni Awards 2020: Rising literary star and local bookstore owner wins Alumni Horizon award

Matthew Stepanic is creating space for others to succeed, invigorating the literary community along the way.

Sheila Graham (with files from Donna McKinnon and Therese Kehler) - 01 March 2021

Publisher, editor, mentor, playwright, poet and entrepreneur: Matthew Stepanic (‘12 BA (Hons)) is an Edmonton rising literary star and community builder, lauded time and again for helping others soar too.

Stepanic has nurtured Glass Buffalo, the magazine first created as an undergrad class project, into an award-winning publication that showcases emerging writers.

“The creative writing courses I took at the U of A were wonderful,” says Stepanic. “Those are intimate spaces — it’s usually the first time you’re sharing your work and getting feedback.”

As the Edmonton Public Library’s 2019 Writer in Residence, Stepanic hosted dozens of events (including an open mic for cat poems) and held almost 200 one-on-one consultations with local authors.

Glass Bookshop, the independent bookstore he co-founded in 2019, features poetry, queer literature and marginalized writers.

“A lot of major cities have several independent bookstores, but there was an opportunity in Edmonton,” recalls Stepanic. He and business partner, Jason Purcell, were both familiar with underrepresented authors and several independent presses and publishers unavailable locally. While the first year they focused on events to spread their idea, in 2019 they partnered with LitFest, Edmonton’s non-fiction festival and opened a pop-up bookstore in Edmonton Centre.

The pair had to pivot quickly in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “We had been talking for months about doing online orders, and called our point-of-sale partner right away.” They got a dozen orders over the first weekend, and have had “incredible support from the local community. Christmas was… a blur.”

“We’re getting several emails from people saying normally would order from Amazon but generally people are willing to wait. If it’s in stock, with us delivering three times a week, there’s not that much of a delay.”

While not open for browsing, Glass Bookshop is currently running out of a small space in the Mercer Building.

While most writers prefer to hunker down with their own work, Stepanic is known for creating space for others to succeed and reinvigorating the literary arts community along the way.

“If you have the time to give, volunteering is the best thing to do because it allows you to support the events and projects you want to see flourish.”