We spoke with the team at Haymarket Books in this installment of the CLMP Member Spotlight series.
What is the history behind Haymarket Books? When was it founded and what was its original mission?
Haymarket Books was founded in 2001 with a mission to publish books that contribute to struggles for social and economic justice, including books that wouldn’t necessarily find a home in a more risk-averse publishing world dominated by a few large corporations. The first book we published, with modest expectations, was a collection of essays called The Struggle for Palestine. While our mission hasn’t changed, the scope of what we’ve been able to accomplish in these almost 20 years—publishing more than 800 books—is far beyond what we could have imagined. We believe that each of those books can be a spark for education, critical thinking, collective discussion, and political action.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of being a “radically independent” publisher?
Radical politics—books and ideas in the service of the struggle for a better world—have always been the heart of what we do. It’s challenging and rewarding to be a radical publisher in some of the same ways it’s both challenging and rewarding to commit oneself to the struggle for liberation.
We are living through dangerous times, with the crises of climate change and the pandemic intersecting with the pre-existing conditions created by an oppressive and exploitative system. The forces that are set against us have seemingly all the resources in the world, and we only have ideas, strategies, and the struggles of ordinary people on the freedom side. In spite of the challenges, it’s deeply rewarding to be able to contribute to that project in some way.
Haymarket Books has organized a robust series of virtual events in response to the current pandemic and other current events, including “How to Beat Coronavirus Capitalism: Naomi Klein, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Astra Taylor,” “COVID-19, Decarceration, and Abolition: Ruthie Wilson Gilmore with Naomi Murakawa,” and “The Pandemic is a Portal: Arundhati Roy with Imani Perry.” What is your vision for this series? Why is it important?
Haymarket’s mission has always been to be a resource for political education on the left. Beyond the books we publish, public events have been a big part of how we engage with the world. Haymarket Books Live is about bringing that work online to meet the needs of the current period. It’s really transformed our relationship with our readers around the world, and we’ve been blown away by the response. Since March, we’ve hosted more than 100 events online and have reached well over a million people.
Haymarket events are a place where people with a whole range of experiences—from those who are brand new to radical politics to movement veterans—can come together to learn from on another and engage in discussions that are rooted in our struggles to change the world.
Many of the events we’ve organized have led to new connections, expanding the amazing network of people and organizations that we are connected with, and we hope to continue that work.
We see ourselves as one small part of a diverse and growing ecosystem of educational resources and institutions on the left, and have been lucky to be able to use this platform to work with an incredible array of people who are doing critical work and providing perspectives for our times.
What is Haymarket House? What are some of your hopes and goals for this space?
Haymarket House will be the new home of the Haymarket Books publishing offices and a community hub for readings, workshops, film screenings, study groups, and other events. Obviously, in this moment when we are unable to gather in person we have not yet opened our doors, but we hope that once we are able to come together again safely, Haymarket House will be a vibrant center for politics, culture, and community in Chicago.
How does the Haymarket Book Club work?
The Haymarket Book Club is a monthly subscription program. Book Club members get all the new books we publish, as well as a standing 50% discount on our website. It’s a really popular program that gives folks a way to support our work in an ongoing way—a great investment in our publishing mission and also their own political education.
Can you tell us about Teaching People’s History? Do you have further plans for this program going forward?
The Teaching People’s History reading list came together as a response to the outrageous attacks from the Trump administration on the work of groups like the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School, two amazing antiracist education groups we work with.
At Haymarket we spend a lot of time building connections with educators, activists, and organizers so that our books can contribute to ongoing political conversations and do work in real world spaces. This reading list and our other curated reading lists and partnerships we’ve developed are examples of that work.
We work with a number of prisoner-organized study groups around the country and are partnering with several books-to-prisoners donation programs. We also donate lots of books to teachers, including through a book giveaway we’ve done the last few years in Chicago where we’ve worked with other independent publishers to directly donate thousands of new books to local educators for use in their classrooms.
In response to the summer’s uprising for Black Lives, we’ve also donated sets of books to activists in cities across the country who are using them for study groups and to share with their communities. We’ve always envisioned our books as an organic part of social movements and the ongoing education and development of a critical, engaged, international left, and these donations, partnerships, and projects are all part of fulfilling that mission.