Religion and spirituality publishers based in the Midwest are responding to readers seeking more meaningful connections and deeper understandings of issues surrounding race. Following changes to society brought on by the pandemic and other recent events, faith-based books can offer inspiration and hope, says Catherine DeVries, publisher of Kregel in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I think our products are deeper and more needed than ever,” she adds. “Since the pandemic, there has been a cycle of grief—shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, and coming to terms with it. Now we’re grappling with the things we experienced, also with our faith and life—books on re-engagement and mental health are very important.”

Kregel just released two books on mental health: A Mind of Their Own: Building Your Child’s Emotional Wellbeing in a Post-Pandemic World by Katharine Hill, which prescribes practices such as listening well and setting consistent boundaries that are based on research, and Finding Rest: A Survivor’s Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life by Jonathon M. Seidl, “a practical, spiritually driven primer on dealing with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression,” according to PW’s review. After turning inward and establishing wellness, one can then look outward at their family, community, and church, says DeVries, noting that today’s faith-based books reveal “a higher sense of urgency about how to make a difference.”

Other Heartland publishers are also addressing mental health issues. Out now from Grand Rapids–based Zondervan, Deep Peace: Finding Calm in a World of Conflict and Anxiety by Todd D. Hunter “articulates a biblical framework for peace and provides practices to help Christians value and seek peace,” according to the publisher.

In March, Revell, which is also based in Grand Rapids, will release When Anxiety Roars: Partnering with Your Child to Tame Worry and Anxiety, by licensed counselor Jean Holthaus, who integrates faith with anxiety-reducing practices and coping skills in the book.

Adding diverse voices

Following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Black Lives Matter protests that took place around the world, Midwest publishers are looking to 2022 and beyond with an eye for titles that lift voices of color and books on issues surrounding race.

“When it happens in your own town, everything about the situation is magnified exponentially,” says Bill Krause, publisher of 120-year-old Llewellyn Worldwide, which is based in Woodbury, Minn., outside of Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. “And the gravity of the situation this past year was like nothing else.”

Llewellyn, which focuses primarily on witchcraft, paganism, and tarot, has always strived to publish diverse voices, but the desire to publish more unique perspectives is even greater today, Krause says. Among the publisher’s forthcoming books is Warrior Magic: Justice Spirituality and Culture from Around the World by Tomás Prower (Jan. 2022), which collects anecdotes and activities from multicultural contributors on the role of magic in resistance and warfare.

At Broadleaf Books, an imprint of Minneapolis-based 1517 Media (the official publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), titles such as Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. by Lenny Duncan reflect a commitment to justice and anti-racism, according to Alison Vandenberg, senior director of marketing and sales. Additionally, 1517 Media’s children’s imprint Beaming Books, is publishing Sarah Rising (May 2022), a picture book by local writer Ty Chapman, who was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis.

Through its Every Voice Now campaign, which focuses on developing, marketing, and selling books by authors of color and recruiting diverse professionals, IVP continues to publish books featuring marginalized perspectives.

“We were pleased to have books already in our list such as White Awake by Daniel Hill and Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0 by Brenda Salter-McNeil that served the demand for books about race issues,” says Cindy Bunch, associate publisher and director of editorial at IVP. “We had many new releases by people of color in the summer and fall of 2020, and we have more key products coming, such as Young, Gifted, and Black by Sheila Wise Rowe.”

IVP president and publisher Terumi Echols says she joined the 75-year-old company back in August in part because it’s “ahead of the curve” when it comes to books on social justice and racial reconciliation. “We have always been in that realm,” she adds. “Advocating for social justice and race relations has been at the heart of IVP since day one, as part of its DNA.”

Drawing on community

Each publisher PW spoke with has experienced unique opportunities and advantages as a result of working in the Heartland. IVP’s Echols, who is based in Westmont, Ill., referred to the region as “the Heartland Bible belt,” with a vibrant Christian community, beautiful lakefront views, food, shopping, and nonstop travel from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

DeVries at Kregel relies on the community in Grand Rapids as a test market for new ideas, and she says book projects have emerged over coffee. “I love being in the Midwest, a place where we can interact with our community and figure out how to encourage people spiritually,” she adds.

Moody Publishing, founded in Chicago nearly 130 years ago, is currently located just yards away from its original office within the city’s River North neighborhood. “We view ourselves as strategically located in the heart of a world-class city,” says Randall Payleitner, associate publisher and editorial director at the press. “While we’re here, on purpose, in Chicago, our authors and readers are located all over the world.”

When asked about commonalities between Midwest religion houses, president and publisher Anita Eerdmans of Eerdmans Publishing pointed out close connections due to shared origins in the Dutch Reformed community of Grand Rapids during the 19th century. “The Eerdmans and the Zondervans are literally related,” she says. “The founders of Zondervan were nephews of William B. Eerdmans Sr. [founder of Eerdmans].”

Tyndale notes that one of the greatest things about publishing is that it’s not bound by location or proximity to authors, printers, or other publishing houses. “While our Midwest values may inform our relational care and warmth related to corporate collegiality and author relationships,” the publishing team said in a statement, “we do not feel that our location necessarily informs the content we publish.”

Both Llewellyn’s Krause and Andrew DeYoung, publishing director at Broadleaf, take advantage of the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable, a series of webinars and luncheons aimed at fostering local networking and idea sharing. “We take encouragement and inspiration from our fellow publishers in the region,” DeYoung says. “The publishing community in the Twin Cities in particular is a rich one.”

Krause adds, “All of the publishing professionals from this area have great passion and conviction about their jobs and the publishers they represent. It is a tremendous professional community.”

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A version of this article appeared in the 11/22/2021 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Strong Roots

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