Haymarket Prints Books for the Ninety-Nine Percent

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sarah Macaraeg (l) and Julie Fain (r) of Haymarket Books. Credit: Patty Wetli

Operating out of rather ramshackle headquarters on a lonely stretch of Rockwell Street, tiny Haymarket Books may exist well outside the center of the publishing universe but its ongoing advocacy for social change has placed it firmly in the midst of the current “99 percent” movement. “All the books we’ve done support struggles for fairness and justice,” says Julie Fain, Haymarket co-founder.

In recent years, Haymarket found itself swimming against a veritable Tea Party tidal wave. “We just roll our eyes” at the Right’s depiction of President Obama as a socialist, says Fain, who, being a socialist knows one when she sees one. “Our joke is, ‘Funny, we’ve never seen him at any of the meetings,’” adds Sarah Macaraeg, publicity director.

Struggling to be heard above the din, Haymarket felt “a call to do more and provide an alternative” to Tea Party rhetoric. “What Haymarket embodies are the politics of hope, change and equality,” Macaraeg says.

With the rise of the Occupy movement, Haymarket sensed the pendulum swinging back in its direction. “When Occupy formed, we were there,” says Fain. “It’s definitely the kind of thing one could have predicted with so much pent-up frustration. You just don’t know when or where.”

Haymarket responded by immediately cranking out a series of introductory, accessible pamphlets on subjects like organizing mass movements. “You can just imagine things being different,” says Fain. “If you take the great wealth and share it out more equally, you can imagine a real flourishing of creativity. Through organizing and struggling, we can make a better world.”

Fain and Anthony Arnove established Haymarket, now located at 4015 N. Rockwell St., in 2001 as an outgrowth of their editorial work at the International Socialist Review. “We knew all these writers and had all this great content,” she recalls. “We said, ‘Let’s do a book.’” Neither had any experience with the production side of publishing. “We didn’t bring in people from the book industry, we knew people who were political and smart. We had a lot to learn a lot about design and production; we’re completely self-taught.”

Their first title, The Struggle for Palestine (an anthology that included works by Edward Said), took a controversial pro-Palestinian stance that immediately signaled Haymarket’s unabashedly progressive, pro-labor, anti-capitalism agenda. “We are on the radical end of the political spectrum and have no qualms about that,” says Macaraeg. “We strive to live in a world based on human need and not profit.” Backing its words with deeds, Haymarket is one of the few publishers to contract with union printers. “It costs more,” says Fain, “but it’s a way to show you support the labor movement.”

A more overt display of solidarity: The press draws its name from the Haymarket Martyrs, anarchists who pushed for the eight-hour work day and were wrongly hanged for inciting the Haymarket Riot. This piece of U.S. history may be vaguely familiar to Chicagoans (thanks, WTTW) but is otherwise largely forgotten. “We have this great labor history, but it’s a very hidden history,” says Fain. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can we bring those stories back that aren’t taught?’”

The challenge for a small, independent publisher like Haymarket–run as a non-profit under the umbrella of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change–is how to connect with a broader audience given its limited resources and reach. “A ridiculously selling book would be 20,000 copies,” says Fain. “Good would be 2,000 to 3,000.” Stephen King won’t even get out of bed for 2,000 copies.

To expand its audience, Haymarket is diversifying its catalog. “We have a fluid view of how people take an interest in politics,” explains Macaraeg. This spring, the press will release its first novel, Is Just a Movie by Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace, “the best novelist nobody knows,” she says. Last fall, Haymarket published its first book of poetry, L-vis Lives by Kevin Coval, and Fain and Arnove (who’s based in New York) also took a chance on Young Adult (YA) author Elizabeth Laird, whose work often features children in conflict zones.

Fans of Haymarket include Nelson Mandela, shown reading a copy of "The John Carlos Story." Credit: Courtesy of Haymarket Books

Laird’s book, A Little Piece of Ground, tells the story of a Palestinian boy living under Israeli occupation. “No one would touch it,” says Fain. “No one would sell it in the U.S. When it comes to that book, we’re the bravest publisher in the U.S.” The gamble paid off, with A Little Piece of Ground becoming one of Haymarket’s bestsellers. “YA has been a really good focus for us,” Fain says.

Laird already had an established reputation in the United Kingdom and another popular Haymarket author, John Carlos, is famous for his black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics. His book, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, just received an NAACP Image Award nomination for outstanding biography/autobiography, in the company of works by Harry Belafonte and Condaleeza Rice. But more often than not, Haymarket takes on projects by unknown authors “covering stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told,” says Macaraeg.

Like that of the young Iraqi teenager whose blog Haymarket is publishing as a diary. Or Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist covering the war in Iraq. “He didn’t embed with the American military,” says Fain. “He went around asking questions and taking photos. He sent out emails and photos to friends and it was forwarded around. We were reading him and Anthony went to him and said, ‘Dahr, this is a book.’”

To promote Beyond the Green Zone, Haymarket sent Jamail on a decidedly unglamorous author tour. “Dahr slept on couches, drove himself to events,” says Macaraeg. “He did one event every day for 30 days.”

“We work hard at trying to find an audience for a book, the right bookstore, the right events, the right readings,” says Fain. But with the demise of bookstores, Haymarket’s publicity efforts tend to fall under the grassroots variety. “We’re connected to a network of activists in every city. Campuses are one of the big places we do events. There’s generally a lot of enthusiasm.”

Despite having reached its 10-year milestone and growing to a staff of 15, Haymarket is still in its infancy, says Fain. At 30 books a year, “we’re doing five times as many books as in 2005.” Still Haymarket isn’t one to measure its success in terms of copies sold or printed. “Throughout history, there have been massive social upheavals and revolutions,” says Fain. “At some point there will be a shift. We have the capacity to create those kinds of changes and ask for something better.”

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