A Small Press Working Hard to be Heard
Tell us how your press came to be: In 2001, a number of activists with previous experience in publishing began discussing the need for books which could play a role in educating and inspiring struggles for social justice. We wanted to bring often-marginalized voices and ideas into broader political discourse; and also help relate the lessons of past movements to new generations. At the time, we were in the midst
of the global justice movement and starting from scratch. Now, we’re thrilled to have just published the latest work, Field Notes on
Democracy, of one of the preeminent voices of that movement, Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy, alongside Noam Chomsky and acclaimed independent journalist Amy Goodman, with their respective Haymarket titles Hopes and Prospects and Breaking the Sound Barrier.
What is the biggest challenge for a small press, in your opinion? We have to work very hard to be heard, as all of the institutions of book trade are oriented on big publishers. When you look at the New York
Times and even many of the independent best-seller and favorites lists, the vast majority of the books listed are from big houses that have tons of money to spend on galleys, marketing, publicists, and author advances. As an independent non-profit publisher, it is difficult for us to compete for major interviews, reviews, and big name authors. That being said, when you maintain your independence, you can have forceful, unique, relevant content; and in that context, we find hard work pays off. Within our current list, Amy Goodman’s Breaking the Sound Barrier hit the New York Times bestseller list, and actor/playwright Wallace Shawn’s Essays was a major critical success.
What do you most enjoy about the state of the publishing industry right now? As challenging as it may be at times, there is room for independent publishers. During an economic crisis and increasing conglomeration in the book industry, we’ve seen a rise in sales, for two years running. It is possible for us to exist and flourish, thanks to Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, who gets our books — and the books of many other great political presses — out into the world. Independent bookstores also do so much to promote the important work of indie presses by highlighting titles that are often not even in stock at major chain stores. (Readers, please be sure to support them!) What’s most exciting is that when there is room for us, there is room for us to weigh in on American culture in exciting and radically different ways.
What do you wish more people knew about your press? We’d like people to know that we truly believe in activism and the power of ordinary people coming together for change. For us, our work does not begin and end with books. We believe, as the great historian Howard Zinn said, that “reading and resistance go hand in hand.” You can find us in the bookstores, and you can also meet us in the streets at local demonstrations. We’re here in Chicago and we love to collaborate with others who do good work. We recently co-hosted leading equal marriage activist Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, with two dynamic local organizations, Join the Impact and Young Chicago Authors. We also set up shop at WBEZ’s Hip-Hop Winter Block Party. We aim to be where there are people who want to change the world and we love to collaborate.
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Celebrating its 10th anniversary and more relevant than ever
If an “official” Occupy Wall Street book publisher were to be named, it might well be Chicago-based Haymarket Books. Here’s an article by Jonathan Messinger, appearing in the November 17th issue of Time Out Chicago magazine, that explains why.
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Haymarket Books: On the press’s 10th anniversary, relevancy takes on a whole new meaning
I’d like to put forth, in this article, the argument that this is Haymarket Books’ time. Despite consistently publishing provocative books from the left end of the political spectrum, the tiny Chicago press doesn’t have the largest profile in the local literary or publishing scene. That, though, speaks more to the left’s marginalization in American culture than it does the quality of the work coming out of the untidy Ravenswood offices.
"But that is now, obviously, changing. The Occupy protests have brought left-of-liberal concerns to the fore, changing the national conversation. And anyone interested in catching up on that conversation might want to stock up on the backlist of Haymarket, which for the past ten years has been building a lending library for just such a movement. In fact, Haymarket has set up shop in several of the towns where the movements have taken off.
“There’s kind of an appreciation for books and ideas in the movement that’s very encouraging to us,” says Anthony Arnove, one of Haymarket’s founding editors. “We’ve been going down to Occupy Wall Street and tabling, and selling a lot of books.”
It would have been difficult to see this success in the press’s early days. Arnove and managing director Julie Fain had worked together on the International Socialist Review and had begun to feel the itch to make the transition to book publishing. At first, they put out a couple of books without any distribution or real structure, selling them at events and with like-minded merchants.
The first book was The Struggle for Palestine, a collection with contributions from heavyweights like Edward Said. And once momentum began building around that book, they decided they needed a name.
“The political legacy of the Haymarket martyrs, and the connection to Chicago history and politics, was perfect,” Arnove says. “There are books and movements from history that we can learn a lot from today.”
But the first big success story for Haymarket came in 2005. Little-known sports writer Dave Zirin got a call from Arnove, who had read columns Zirin was writing for Prince George’s Post, a small paper in Maryland with, as Zirin puts it, “a circulation that could fit into a small room.” Arnove was looking to do a sports book, and the two put together a collection of Zirin’s work investigating the intersection of sports and politics. That book became What’s My Name, Fool? and was instantly a huge success.
“I remember he went on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman,” Fain says.“And after that, I looked at the sales numbers and said, ‘What is happening?’”
“Without Haymarket, I have no career,” says Zirin, who has now written for major newspapers and magazines, appeared on numerous news programs and notched several books since. “They see books as books, not books as units. And for a writer, that’s such a rarity in this business, it’s like finding gold.”
Zirin is out on tour with his new book, The John Carlos Story (Haymarket, $22.95), touring with the famed Olympian who raised a Black Power salute from the bronze medal podium at the 1968 Olympics.The two are on one of the most unusual book tours going, planning speaking events around visits and teach-ins at various Occupy protests.
And that is maybe what makes Haymarket the most exciting and relevant press right now: the sheer immediacy of its work. In the midst of a housing crisis, it published Joe Allen’s People Wasn’t Made to Burn. couple of weeks before the global population ticked up to seven billion, it published Too Many People? And, says, Fain, the press is coming out with a short run of pamphlets, introducing some of its books and the ideas in those books to the protesters camped out across the country.
“We always knew there would be a time when — given how difficult things were getting — the ideas we were keeping alive would become extremely relevant in a very short period of time,” Fain says. “So over those ten years, we consistently published books that held to the idea that there is a chance for a better world. For all of us, this is just an amazing moment. It is what we’ve been publishing for.”
Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago
(reposted with permission)
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Here’s more about the John Carlos book and two recent titles from Haymarket Books that are popular with the Occupy protesters:
The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World
By John Carlos and Dave Zirin, Foreword by Cornel West
Seen around the world, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute on the 1968 Olympic podium sparked controversy and career fallout. Yet their show of defiance remains one of the most iconic images of Olympic history and the Black Power movement. Here is the remarkable story of one of the men behind the salute, lifelong activist, John Carlos.
Published: October, 2011
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Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class
By Chris Lehmann
Lays bare the various dogmas and delusions that prop up plutocratic rule in the post-meltdown age. It's a humorous and harrowing tale of warped populism, phony reform, and blind deference to the nation's financial elite. As the author explains, "American class privilege is very much like the idea of sex in a Catholic school—it's not supposed to exist in the first place, but once it presents itself in your mind's eye, you realize that it's everywhere."
Published: October, 2011
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Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present
By Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini
From the dawning of the industrial epoch, wage earners have organized themselves into unions, fought bitter strikes, and have gone so far as to challenge the very premises of the system by creating institutions of democratic self-management aimed at controlling production without bosses. Looking at specific examples drawn from every corner of the globe and every period of modern history, this pathbreaking volume comprehensively traces this often under-appreciated historical tradition.
Published: May, 2011
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Learn more about Haymarket Books: www.haymarketbooks.org
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