Even though Grand Rapids, Mich., has a population of only about 200,000, the western Michigan city and surrounding area is a major hub of religion publishing and is home to Baker Publishing Group, Eerdmans Publishing, Kregel Publications, and Zondervan.

“A lot of the publishers in the Midwest came out of the same faith traditions, and also knew each other,” says Andrea Doering, editorial director of Revell, BPG’s fiction imprint. “They started publishing books in their hometowns around the same time, during the Great Depression. They had a ready and willing market there, across the country, and across the globe.”

Kregel publisher Catherine DeVries concurs, noting that three of the four companies are still family owned (Zondervan is now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing). Being a family-owned enterprise in Michigan, DeVries says, “gives us the freedom to publish what we feel is important and what people need. We believe in the books we publish; they’re not just numbers on a list.”

Both Doering and DeVries point out that, while people everywhere are transitioning to postpandemic life, readers are still, as DeVries put it, “looking for hope, a deeper purpose” than they sought prior to 2020. Both are especially excited about their faith-based fiction lists, each citing a novel set in WWII Poland—both written, coincidentally, by Amanda Barratt. This fall, Revell is releasing The Warsaw Sisters, while back in January Kregel released Within These Walls of Sorrow.

Explaining that the Black Lives Matter movement has driven Kregel to build a more diverse list, DeVries is also excited about nonfiction, such as Colorful Connections, a book about race coauthored by a Black woman and a white woman. “Issue-based books are very important,” DeVries says. “We need more voices from a variety of perspectives.”

Chicago publishers keep the faith

Most of the other religion publishers in the Heartland are located in major metro areas and affiliated with larger organizations. Four of these houses are clustered in Chicago: InterVarsity Press, affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; Loyola Press, the publishing arm of the Roman Catholic Jesuit ministries; Moody Publishing, part of the Moody Bible Institute; and Tyndale, the publishing division of Tyndale House Ministries.

All four will spotlight their offerings for children at the upcoming ALA Annual Conference. IVP will introduce its new IVP Kids line, and Loyola is announcing the launch of its 4U2B Books & Media imprint, which publisher Joellyn Cicciarelli says will focus on “secular books for children and adults that deliver connected, inclusive, and inspirational topics and stories.” Tyndale will be giving away A Twisty Turny Journey, the 11th volume in its Dead Sea Squirrels middle grade series.

Moody publisher Randall Payleitner says the press is “making new strides to reach middle grade readers, with both nonfiction and fiction, to help them better navigate the complex world in which they live.” Out of the Shadow World and This Seat Is Saved are two new “poignant fiction” releases that he thinks “every library should carry,” Payleitner says, as both “make real-world sense out of the difficulties faced by today’s kids.”

While the Twin Cities are renowned for being hubs of literary and children’s publishing, Minneapolis is also home to 1517 Media, the publishing arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 1517 Media publishes for the trade under two imprints: Broadleaf Books for adults and Beaming Books for children. Explaining that “our lists expand beyond progressive Christian interest to reach and speak to a general readership interested in such topics as social justice, spirituality, and personal wellness,” senior director of marketing and sales Alison Vandenberg is buzzing about The Bodies Keep Coming: Dispatches from a Black Trauma Surgeon on Racism, Violence, and How We Heal, due out in September.

The Pilgrim Press moved to Cleveland in 1990, and publisher Rachel Hackenberg declares that the publishing arm of the United Church of Christ will never leave the Midwest. “Pilgrim has built relationships with other small presses,” including those in Cleveland, Hackenberg says, and is a member of “an association of Protestant-owned publishing houses.” She “adores” Pilgrim’s children’s book series Slug and Snail, “because it engages children in fundamental concepts of belonging and global citizenship through the adventures of a pair of crawling besties.”

Amanda Barratt's first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story and has been corrected.

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