At least in the physical sense, reading is inherently passive. Yet there is something about a book, or article, or poem, that has the potential to make the reader stand and take action. This inscrutable quality is the foundation of the independent Haymarket Books. Though it meant forgoing the traditional goals of a press, Haymarket has adopted an activist platform that extends beyond the office or bookstore. Based in Chicago, Haymarket Books is a not-for-profit distributor and publisher of books that describes itself as “progressive”. Progress may be a bit of an understatement–what Haymarket aims to do is change the world.
How? Books. Haymarket was conceived as a combination between editor and activist Anthony Arnove’s publishing experience, and the business background of fellow activist Julie Fain. The non-profit distinguishes itself from corporate publishers through a disdain for financial profit and a mania for, as Haymarket defines it, a “better world”. It draws inspiration from the Haymarket Martyrs, four men who were hanged for their involvement in the 1886 strike for an eight-hour workday. This eponymous bunch personified the rabid, unapologetic idealism that also drives Haymarket. Luckily, Haymarket Books is far from the gallows. The press recently celebrated its tenth birthday and is enjoying unprecedented success. Volunteers in cities from New York to San Francisco, outside funding from donors, and the freedom from agonizing over hard profit all help.
Haymarket’s precise relevancy doesn’t hurt. The Occupy movement, in concurrence with the Arab Spring and a resulting discontent, helped feed a desire for exactly the kind of non-fiction Haymarket specializes in–cogent, counter-cultural, left-leaning, and implicitly or explicitly socialist. Rather than exist as a “vacuum,” as Anthony Arnove puts it, Haymarket is “part of the culture.” Sensitive to the public’s tastes, the press often publishes work that emerges organically within its audience. One prominent example of this is Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America, a collective account of the movement from activists themselves.
Regardless of Occupy’s longevity, Arnove is optimistic about the future of socialism in America and conjunctively, the future of Haymarket. With recent expansion into the fields of poetry and fiction—including the enchanting Is Just A Movie by Earl Lovelace, reader at our upcoming Literary Festival!—Haymarket has no reason for apprehension. With reduced “pressure on the bottom line,” that is, a monetary profit, the press can operate less like a business and more like a petri dish for exciting, revolutionary writing. Literature may be potent, but without organizations like Haymarket to bridge the gap between theory and practice, words would lay dormant on the shelf.
Hear Lovelace, pictured above, read August 18th, at 3:00 pm in Fort Greene Park! Our 8th annual Literary Festival will feature Lovelace along with writers Jessica Hagedorn and Tayari Jones, and local writers aged 7-18 who have been attending our free summer workshops. More information can be found here.