Read Local

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Every day, we’re encouraged to shop local, buy local, eat local. So, why not read local as well?

Although one usually thinks of the East Coast as the country’s—if not the world’s—publishing hub, there’s a lot of good reading material being published closer to home. In fact, Chicago is home to more than 125 publishers in the city and suburbs. Broaden that out to the Midwest, and we’re talking about several hundred nearby publishers from which to select great books.

From trade houses to academic and university presses, from association publishers to education publishers, and from museum publishers to other specialty presses, literally thousands of books are coming out of hundreds of presses here in Chicago, in the surrounding suburbs, and in neighboring states.

Here at Chicago Book Review, we think that’s something to celebrate. We want to do whatever we can to highlight and support local publishers, authors, agents, and others who are helping to make Chicago and environs a thriving publishing center. Our reviews focus on books that are published here, written by authors based here, sold by agents headquartered here, set here … you get the picture. But we also want to shine a light on the industry itself, in the hopes that readers will become more aware of the ways they can not only shop local, but how they can read local as well.

Today, we look at university presses, and Chicago is home to some truly great academic publishing.

Columbia College Chicago Press, DePaul University Press, Loyola University Press, Northwestern University Press … the list goes on and on. Chicago is home to a number of academic and university presses, the largest of which is The University of Chicago Press, which, in fact, is the country’s largest university press. Founded in 1891, the Press has issued more than 11,000 titles since then, and it publishes about 250 new books a year. Most people think of The Chicago Manual of Style when they think about The University of Chicago Press, but the press also is home to such authors as Norman Maclean, Mike Royko, Milton Friedman, Jean-Paul Sartre, and J.M. Coetzee.

Up north, rival Northwestern University also boasts a fine press. Founded just two years after its Hyde Park neighbor, in 1893, Northwestern University Press originally focused on publishing legal periodicals and scholarly books dealing with the law. Today, NU Press publishes titles on a variety of subjects, from African studies to biography to philosophy to women’s studies, in addition to poetry, fiction, and literature. NU Press titles have been nominated for Pulitzer prizes, have won the National Book Award, and have earned great reviews from major media.

Farther down state, we have University of Illinois Press, which was formally established in 1918. UI Press has long been known for publishing high-quality academic and scholarly work. In 1977, the Press combined its focus on anthropology, folklore, African-American studies, and women’s studies when it published a biography of author Zora Neale Hurston. At the same time, the Press acquired paperback rights to Their Eyes Were Watching God, which went on to sell more than 356,000 (!!) copies. Although a commercial publisher has since reclaimed the paperback rights, UI Press still offers a gift edition of the book.

Neighboring Missouri is home to University of Missouri Press, which during the past year or so was much in the news due to a hullaballoo in which university administrators threatened to shutter the award-winning press. Editors quit, authors pulled out, and a PR nightmare ensued. Public outrage forced university officials to backtrack, and today the fifty-four-year-old press is back, publishing scores of new books on a variety of subjects. University of Missouri Press is known for a number of highly acclaimed titles, including The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo EmersonMark Twain and His Circle, and On Soldiers and Statesmen.

I could go on and on. Northern Illinois University Press. Southern Illinois University Press. Indiana University Press. University of Iowa Press. Nearby university presses are publishing hundreds of new titles every year, affording readers plenty of opportunities to read local while supporting local colleges and universities as well as the many local authors, professors, and editors who write and contribute to those titles.

Shop local. Buy local. And, yes: Read local.

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