If you follow me on social media, you have seen me tweet about and at Belt Publishing a time or two. They are a small press that publishes material about the Rust Belt and the Midwest. So basically, my catnip. I have been a fan since the beginning, and in their magazine, they published my first (or second?) non-academic piece.
BUT my excitement for Belt offerings has hit a peak with its latest series, specially my nineteenth-century heart is a flutter. Belt is reissuing late nineteenth and early twentieth century writing from the region in their revival series. I’m thrilled that Belt is reviving important but mostly forgotten books of the midwest. And it’s not a surprise to me and anyone else who has studied this time period that the themes in many of these texts resonate with our contemporary conversations. Here are some topics that these books (or at least the three out of five that I have read) cover that might sound familiar to our current conversations: poverty, income inequality, corporate greed, the state of art and culture in our society, etc. They are not always the jolliest of books, but they often ask clear questions about topics we don’t always want to discuss.
Also, on a very shallow level, look at these gorgeous book covers:
I’m burying the lede a bit here, because the real reason for this post is that through a bit of serendipity I was able to write the introduction to Main-Travelled Roads by Hamlin Garland. Garland’s writing is both lyrical and direct in a way that has to be read to fully understand. He writes about the farm land of his midwest upbringing and outlines the suffering he finds there with occasionally stiff but more often lovely prose. I would definitely recommend Main-Travelled Roads to anyone interested in the time period or the places (Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin) Garland writes about, and of course, don’t skip the introduction.
For me writing about Main-Travelled Roads was a little personal too. It was on my comps list and was an important part of finding my way to my dissertation topic. Making a comps list was the first time I was really discovering writers on my own to study—sort of laying down what my field of interest was beyond what my professors or the canon or years and years of school had told me to read. It is, therefore, an important book in my scholarly trajectory and also marks the turning point of me being allowed to become a more independent thinker. Like the best books of our lives, Main-Travelled Roads and I have a personal and professional relationship.
Here is a full look at the cover for Main-Travelled Roads; pre-order it at Belt.