Midwestern presses are proud of the publishing hubs they have created around the Great Lakes, in cities better known for their blue-color industries. “Some people don’t think of Chicago as a publishing town,” says Doug Seibold, founder and publisher of Agate Publishing in Evanston, Ill. “But despite their thoughts, Chicago is a trade-publishing place with independent publishers like us who have become an integral part of this city’s cultural life.” Agate, which has grown to become one of Chicagoland’s largest indie publishers, was founded in Seibold’s basement in 2002 to publish books to fill a niche without him being “beholden to funders or donors or investors.”
Agate was the first to publish acclaimed novelist Jesmyn Ward and food writer Iliana Regan, and Seibold expressed confidence that 2023 releases like Under the Henfluence by Tove Danovich and Regan’s Fieldwork will spark interest among librarians at the upcoming ALA Annual Conference, as well as its In Their Own Words series, now with a companion series for young readers that includes collections of quotes by Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Launched at approximately the same time as Agate, Haymarket Books has published books by such authors as Rebecca Solnit, Arundhati Roy, and Howard Zinn examining systemic inequality and social justice from radical perspectives. Pointing out that sales surged during the pandemic and remain 54% above prepandemic levels, programming and development coordinator Dana Blanchard explains that the uprisings following George Floyd’s murder in 2020 were “transformative” for Haymarket: “Interest in our books matched the intensity of the political moment as people searched for ideas, analysis, history and politics related to systematic racism,” she says.
During ALA, Haymarket, which has been a leader in the fight against book bans and censorship, will host at its Chicago offices a gathering of “radical librarians,” publicity director Jim Plank says, “for a discussion of anti-censorship efforts and other ways for libraries and librarians to support liberation work.”
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Chicago Review Press publishes 50 new books annually under nine imprints. Describing this fall’s releases as “an exciting lineup,” publisher Cynthia Sherry is confident that Paul Landis’s The Final Witness will “generate a lot of excitement.”
Another iconic publisher, Third World Press, is arguably the largest independent Black-owned publisher in the U.S. It launched in 1967 when Haki R. Madhubuti met with poet Carolyn Rodgers and activist Johari Amini in Madhubuti’s Chicago basement; it has since grown into a multimillion-dollar company releasing works by such authors as Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka.
The biggest publisher in Chicagoland is, of course, Sourcebooks. But it started out very small—in a bedroom in publisher Dominique Raccah’s Naperville home. Now in its 36th year, Sourcebooks publishes about 540 books annually under 12 imprints, and among its adults imprints are Sourcebooks Casablanca for romance fiction; Sourcebooks Landmark, devoted to commercial fiction; and Bloom Books, dedicated to publishing entrepreneurial authors.
Detroit’s Aquarius Press publishes underrepresented voices, with its Willow Books imprint focusing on BIPOC authors. Visible Ink in nearby Canton focuses on the sciences, history, minority studies, and the paranormal.
Heading west, generous state funding supports Minnesota’s cluster of literary nonprofit presses, including Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, and Milkweed Editions. CHP has become renowned in recent years for its edgy offerings, and will feature at ALA such titles as poetry by Black queer femme Saretta Morgan. Graywolf will feature recent books from Tsitsi Dangaremgba, Dana Gioia, and Max Porter, while Milkweed is spotlighting The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Deborah Magpie Earling. Strive Publishing, a relative newcomer on the scene, publishes books of Black interest. Publisher Mary Taris also operates a bookstore/gift shop inside a collaborative retail space in downtown Minneapolis, the Sistah Co-op.
Minnesota is also known for publishers affiliated with two of the country’s most prestigious medical facilities. The mission of Hazelden Publishing, a division of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is to help people overcome addictions, while Mayo Clinic Press publishes books on mental and physical health topics for both adults and children.
Belt Publishing, in suburban Cleveland, was founded in 2013 with the mission of publishing underrepresented perspectives from the Rust Belt region, while Two Dollar Radio in Columbus is, publisher Eric Obenauf says, “committed to championing diverse voices that speak to contemporary issue,”—and does so in true “Midwest nice” fashion.
When extremists prevented a local eatery from hosting a drag queen brunch, Two Dollar Radio partnered with Cover to Cover, a local children’s bookstore, to set up a display of books by trans and nonbinary authors. A portion of the proceeds from sales were then donated to the Columbus Kaleidoscope Youth Center. And, Obenauf says, “We’re shuffling our early 2024 list around a bit in order to publish some bold voices, such as a title that speaks directly to trans and nonbinary athletes in sport.”
Bethanne Patrick is a writer and editor living in the Washington, D.C., area.