“I didn’t plan this,” admits Anne Trubek, looking down at the booklet in her hand.
Yet she’s here, holding Belt Publishing’s 2019 catalogue, the latest collection of literary offerings from a small, independent press with a booming, regional voice. Founded in 2012, Belt Publishing spotlights fresh and forgotten voices across the Rust Belt and Midwest, reframing our story on our terms.
“Our books are very Rust Belt-y,” Trubek explains. “Urbanism, politics in an understated way, a sense of place, intellectual, and always, always well-written.”
The sister project of Trubek’s online Belt Magazine, Belt Publishing was born after Trubek published 2012’s Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, a kaleidoscopic collection of essays on Cleveland life.
“It was more successful than anticipated and clearly struck a nerve,” says Trubek, a former English professor at Oberlin College.
Each year, the catalogue has expanded: 2014’s handful of books ballooned to 14 new titles by 2019. The market for nuanced Rust Belt literature is clearly there: for example, What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte’s NPR-featured nonfiction work that Trubek has described as a “response to [New York Times best-seller] Hillbilly Elegy,” has sold more than 10,000 copies.
As the imprint grows, Trubek remains committed to providing readers with work that speaks to that Rust Belt narrative: profound experiences from Midwest communities that experienced record growth, busted at the same time, and are still finding their way through industrial changes and depopulation.
To better understand that tension, Trubek looked to the past. In 2018, Belt Publishing launched its Rust Belt Revival series, a collection of reprinted titles from history. Each tells a resonant, often-overlooked Midwest story that redefines our region’s background while casting our present in strange new light.
“People are literally forgetting the progressive history of the Midwest,” says Trubek. “These books play an important role in acting as our collective historical memory.”
Belt Publishing’s 2019 catalogue spans everything from suburban deep-dives to science fiction. Here are our picks for your Rust Belt reading list.
Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes
of the American City (Out April 2)
By Amanda Kolson Hurley
For those who think suburbs are homogenous and cookie-cutter, this flips the script. “From a tiny-house, anarchist colony in New Jersey to a racially integrated development in Pennsylvania, the examples in this book will help readers think about the intentions behind how we set up our communities,” says Trubek.
Cleveland in 50 Maps (Out Oct. 15)
Edited by Dan Crissman, Illustrations by David Wilson
Go beyond topography and population growth. This cartography captures the city’s soul — charting philanthropic cash flow, the brightest Friday night football games or East Cleveland’s unfilled potholes. “There are redlining maps, maps from where the salt from Cargill goes, and, yes, even maps showing the evolving placement of Cleveland’s breweries,” she says.
Midwest Architecture Journeys (Out Oct. 15)
Edited by Zach Mortice
The press’ first hardcover coffee-table book is a collection of essays and photography of Midwest architecture, both well-known and off-the-beaten Belt. “With shots of indoor flea markets, bathhouses and abandoned warehouses, this is not your father’s Frank Lloyd Wright coffee-table book,” she says.
The Artificial Man and Other Stories (Out March 26)
By Clare Winger Harris
Harris was the first woman to publish science fiction under her own name in the 1920s. She raised her family and wrote these stories in Lakewood. “[It’s] a collection by a groundbreaking woman who made her mark in a genre that is too often seen as a masculine domain,” says Trubek, “Writing stories often dealt with characters on the ‘borders of humanity,’ such as cyborgs.”
The Marrow of Tradition (Out March 26)
By Charles W. Chesnutt
In 1901, Chestnutt, the first black professional writer in the United States, penned this fictionalized account of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riots in North Carolina, the only coup on American soil. “Readers will find great resonance with today’s events on these pages,” she says.
Stories of Ohio (Out March 26)
By William Dean Howells
A history of Ohio written in 1897, Howells’ short vignettes represent one of the few existing works that chronicle Ohioan life before highways were introduced. “This is an eye-opening history, with fascinating conversations on Native Americans, canals and Howells’ strong feelings about the English and the American settlers,” says Trubek.