Alternative Publishing – Milkweed Editions: A Literary Metamorphosis Site
By Frankie Harnett, Chloë Marshall, Natalie Klinkenberg and Alice Fusai
In 1979, Emilie Buchwald and founded the literary and arts journal, the Milkweed Chronicle. Around the mid-1980s, the journal transitioned into publishing and Milkweed Editions, an independent nonprofit publisher, was born. Now under the direction of publisher and CEO Daniel Slager, Milkweed Editions is home to over 350 titles of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Their website states that they aim to become “a site of metamorphosis in the literary ecosystem,” like how a milkweed plant is to a monarch butterfly, turning manuscripts into beautiful and impactful books. By taking risks with experimental and debut authors, they home in on five pillars to ensure their authors succeed in the industry: craft, community, innovation, advocacy, and stewardship.
Milkweed’s mission is to publish books that change how people see and act in the world while building a sustainable future. Milkweed achieves this by bringing in voices that are new to important conversations, publishing transformative books that ensure a future full of diversity and empowerment. Their books discuss our relationships with the “more-than-human” world, creating a space for audiences to engage and reflect with the world’s culture. Milkweed’s practices reflect their sustainability mission by using recycled materials, vegetable-based inks and renewable energy sources to bring their books to life. By carefully selecting books that fit within their already artistic list, Milkweed Editions not only elevates their authors' stories but their readers' collections and minds as well.
Milkweed press is a nonprofit organisation, which is partly funded like any other press. However, as a nonprofit, Milkweed is further supported through subscriptions paid by its members. Slager, Milkweed’s Publisher and CEO, has said that raising additional funds through a loyal community allows them to “focus on quality and transformative potential over everything else.” This supports the meticulous care provided throughout the editorial process, in which they invest a lot of time, labour and resources. Their three-tiered subscription model, wherein “readers” pay $5 a month, “supporters” pay $10 a month and “investors” pay $25 a month, can be supplemented by donations; for example, $60 will fund an hour of editorial development work. In addition to supporting the development and publication of new works, the membership model allows Milkweed to cultivate a community of readers interested in literary books, sustaining their circular mission.
Milkweed Editions publishes literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry and essays, with a particular focus on social and environmental issues. They are continuously expanding their list of translated work, championing writers of diverse origins and writing styles, many of whom have won national awards for their work.
In 2015, Milkweed published Bright Dead Things, a poetry collection by current US Poet Laureate, Ada Limón. The collection was nominated as a finalist for the National Book Award, a first for Milkweed. With Bright Dead Things, Limón strives “to embrace and understand the fullness of the present moment,” considering how identities are built in unstable times and places.
Another publication by Milkweed, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, a collection of essays, by Indigenous educator and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, is perhaps Milkweed’s most well-known publication. This collection emphasises the need for ecological consciousness and celebrating our reciprocal relationship with the natural world to foster a sustainable future.
With community action at the heart of Milkweed Editions, the publishing house is proud to offer a rotating series of author events that are accessible to the local community. One of Milkweed’s most prominent monthly event, is their panel series, Milkweed Presents! which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.
Similarly, Milkweed runs a monthly Faculty/Student Reading Series with the University of Minnesota’s Creative Writing Program. Rounding off 2023 on 7 December, with a sure-to-be stimulating conversation, Milkweed is hosting Jordan Young, an aspiring writer whose work focuses on race and relationships, and Kate Nueronberger, an established essayist and poet who writes about the history of science, ideas and gender. This events series is also completely open to the public, so just book your free ticket here. Milkweed Edition hosts a wide selection of other events throughout the year, so be sure to check them out and enjoy their fresh approach to publishing for the community.
Milkweed is a true example of how alternative publishing can flourish in today's very polarized and profit-driven book market. Its attention to every step of the publishing process, from production to authors management, is an invitation to rethink not only what we do in our job on a daily basis, but how we do that. Milkweed is making a clear statement: it is not sufficient to spread culture in our contemporary world. This is not enough; unless we make sure that the product, we are delivering to the world complies with ecological, feminist, working class, and ultimately intersectional principles in every action taken.
You can follow Milkweed editions to stay updated on their releases on their social pages.