The Midwest is home to many religion specialty publishers, across the full spectrum of faiths. Often publishing houses spring up because of the migration of certain ethnic and religious groups to the center of the country, but sometimes the reasons are more serendipitous.
When one thinks of Minnesota, one might think of Scandinavians. And indeed, Augsburg Fortress Press--the denominational publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)--which was formed from three Lutheran denominations comprising Norwegian, Danish, and German immigrants--is based in Minneapolis. Once a publisher of books such as devotionals and Christian self-help, along with resources for its churches and academic books, in 2009 the house ceased acquiring general trade books and shifted its focus to the scholarly publishing program of its Fortress Press imprint. Title output has doubled—from 50 per year in 2010, to 100 each in 2013 and 2014.
Senior acquisitions editor Tony Jones is acquiring books for a new line (as yet unnamed) that will publish trade books by scholars who can write accessibly for intelligent general readers. Jones says that by 2016 plans are to publish 15-20 such books per year. Still, according to Joe Riley, sales and marketing director, Augsburg Fortress’s top seller remains the little book Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg, first published 54 years ago and considered a classic on the topic.
The lone Catholic publisher in Minnesota, Liturgical Press, was founded in 1926 as the publishing ministry of St. John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minn., founded 156 years ago by German monks who migrated from Pennsylvania to serve the large German population that had settled there. They also founded what became St. John’s University, as well as St. John's Preparatory,a Catholic high school. Notes Peter Dwyer, director of Liturgical Press, “These orders had traditionally been cloistered, but in the U.S., in new territory, they entered public life to serve the needs of the growing community.”
Liturgical publishes both academic and popular books, but also pastoral titles, such as liturgy and ritual resources for parishes, “which today have a harder time providing them to congregations because of declining clergy and financial constraints,” Dwyer says. The press also sells affordable reproductions of The St. John’s Bible, the first hand-written and fully illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years; the original volume is housed at the Abbey.
Evangelical Christians have also played a role in the history of religion publishing in Minnesota. Bethany House Publishers, a pioneer of Christian genre fiction, was founded in 1956 by Bethany Fellowship, an evangelical ministry organization based in Bloomington, Minn. Although some 40 editorial, marketing, and production staff continue to work from offices there, Bethany House was acquired by Grand Rapids, Mich.,- based Baker Publishing Group in March of 2003 and is headquartered there.
It might seem less likely to find a Jewish publisher in Minnesota, but Kar-Ben Publishing, the Jewish children’s imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, also calls Minneapolis home. (Lerner acquired Kar-Ben in 2001 and relocated it from the East Coast to Lerner’s Minneapolis headquarters.) Kar-Ben’s Passover haggadah for children, My Very Own Haggadah (1975), still in print after more than 40 years, has sold more than two million copies, according to publisher Joni Sussman, who says Kar-Ben has published more than 150 books for Jewish children and their families.
Kar-Ben publishes up to 20 new children’s titles each year and has almost 400 titles in print, Sussman says. Subjects include Jewish holidays, Bible tales, folktales, Jewish history, and “stories that reflect the rich cultural diversity of today's Jewish family,” she adds. The press marks its 40th anniversary in 2015, and Sussman says there will be “a variety of special promotions and events beginning at BEA.”
Notes Sussman, “Sales for Kar-Ben’s ‘mainstream’ Jewish-themed children’s titles continue to be strong, particularly as intermarriage rates climb. Many families, whether with one Jewish parent or two, are opting to bring Judaism into their children’s lives, and good non-didactic children’s books offer parents a gentle way into Judaism no matter where they are on the Jewish identity spectrum.”