It’s been 25 years since the late Andre Schriffin cofounded the New Press with Diane Wachtell, who is now its executive director. From the start, the New Press was meant to be a hybrid independent publisher that combined trade publishing expertise and nonprofit fund-raising with a mission to produce books for progressive social activism. Schriffin, who died in 2013, described the New Press as an independent publishing house in the public interest. Now, in the wake of the recent presidential election, the New Press plans to celebrate its anniversary with an energized publishing program focused on the challenge of resisting the new administration’s political agenda.
“I think Andre would be very proud of our postelection books,” said Ellen Adler, the New Press’s publisher, in an interview shortly after returning from ABA’s Winter Institute. “I think he’d be pleased with the fact that we’ve found a niche and our books are widely embraced by booksellers.”
Indeed, as the New Press marks its 25th year, it has a lot to be proud of. In 2016 it published 40 titles (TNP published 23 in 1992), reported revenue of $6.7 million ($1.5 million in 1992), and during the year had two books—Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land—on the bestseller list simultaneously. First published in 2010, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness now has more than 900,000 copies in print; Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right has 100,000 copies in print and was nominated for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Created as a nonprofit, the New Press is supported not only by book sales but by grants, and the house has a four-person grant development department. Although Adler emphasized that the New Press has “higher earned income than usual for a nonprofit with a social mission,” she also points to the fact that nearly $1 million out of the $6.7 million in revenue last year came from grants and individual donations.
The New Press was also founded with a mandate to embrace diversity both in its publishing lists and in its staff. In an industry with a continuing dearth of minority representation at every level, the New Press strives to practice what it preaches. TNP, which began with a staff of five in 1992, has 28 employees today, of whom 39% are nonwhite. The house’s 25-year-old diversity-focused internship program is one of the industry’s longest running and most successful; it has trained and sent more than 550 former interns into jobs in book and magazine publishing, including in-house.
“Many [former interns] do go on to jobs in publishing, both books and magazines, while others have gone on to not-for-profits and, in some cases, grad school and the academy,” Adler said. “We’ve got really interesting people who did not get here in the usual way.” TNP education editor Tara Grove, for example, was a social worker who started as a TNP intern before being hired as an editor.
Wachtell said the internship program has other benefits besides bringing in people with different backgrounds. She said it has also transformed the editorial acquisition climate by adding personnel with different perspectives, experiences and skill sets. The New Press often works closely with a variety of activist and nonprofit organizations, such as the ACLU, to develop books, and in turn uses those organization’s networks to market and sell the book to the communities that can use them. “We work with movements,” Wachtell said. “It’s not easy, and most publishers don’t do it.”
Among the recent books it has produced in this manner are The Fight for Fifteen by David Rolf, in partnership with the Services Employees International Union; Black Power 50 edited by Sylviane A. Diouf and Komozi Woodard, with support from the Schomborg Resource Center in Harlem; and Frackopoly by Wenonah Hauter, produced with the Food and Water Watch. One of the New Press’s lead titles for 2017 is Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn. It’s the life story of Burton, a one-time drug addict who spent 15 years in and out of prison before cleaning up and founding A New Way of Life, a nonprofit organization that operates safe housing and provides overall support for female ex-prisoners. “We don’t usually do memoirs, but [Burton’s book] is the individual story behind mass incarceration,” Adler explained.
Responding to the political climate, the New Press is launching Fearless Books for Perilous Times, which is both a new publishing series and a slogan for the house’s anniversary. The “fearless” titles are Wolf Whistle Politics: The New Misogyny in Public Life Today, edited by Wachtell (with an introduction by Naomi Wolf); Rules for Resistance: Advice From Around the World in the Age of Trump, coedited by David Cole and Melanie Wachtell Stinnett; and How Do I Explain This to the Kids? Parenting in the Age of Trump edited by Ava Siegler. The books are all paperback and will be released in April and May.
Adler joked that the press was “occupying” Wall Street (where its offices are located), but she and Wachtell both recognize that the next few years will be no laughing matter when it comes to politics. “The next four years we’ll be working in the social change sphere. New movements will rise up in response to this administration,” Wachtell said. “We plan to start a podcast, and we’re going to build up our online presence. It’s a publisher’s website now, but it will become a content and community site and a hub for social change.”