The publishing home of Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, poet and playwright Amiri Baraka and Illinois poet laureate Angela Jackson suffered a winter flood that destroyed considerable inventory, but bad weather and water won’t slow the work of the historic Third World Press Foundation.
Donations have been pouring in from every corner of the continent, with over $100,000 raised in swift fashion to help counter the $300,000 in estimated damages to the nation’s largest independent, and second-oldest, black-owned publisher.
“I think we put the GoFundMe nonprofit page up on a Friday, and within a week or so, we saw people were responding,” says Madhubuti, who just last October received the Pegasus Lifetime Achievement Award from the Poetry Foundation. “It multiplied. And people who had not contacted us in years came to help. And what happened? I see it as a movement equated to what we were doing in the sixties and the seventies. It was a movement to save an institution because they knew -one- that I love black people, that’s number one. But they knew also that Third World Press was a publisher of record.”
He went on to explain that the Third World Press Foundation publishes Brooks books, including the poet’s gorgeously blue-covered, seminal work of art named “Blacks.” (He also reminds that Brooks, who made her transition in 2000, is the first African-American writer to win a Pulitzer.) TWP also publishes Jackson, who is the poet laureate of Illinois.
Since the kick off, the GoFundMe drive has seen a myriad of donations, including $50,000 from a person listed as Kyrie Irving and plenty of $25 donations from hundreds. Madhubuti views the value of each donation the same. It adds up.
“We have this tradition and people around the country responded with donations of all sizes,” says Madhubuti, 80, adding that the link will stay live until the end of February. “And we don’t have any judgment around what people give or do not give us, but I always felt that they gave what they can afford to give.”
The money helps pay for some cleanup. But mostly, some books will need to be reprinted in entirety, including those slated to release for the Kwanzaa/beginning of year selling season, and works important to the upcoming Black History Month canon. Many backlist and frontlist titles were rendered unsalvageable due to the water.
The outpouring of concern and help for the cleanup of the flooded room and replacement of damaged books is important both to American culture and to the publishing industry. At a time when independent booksellers are struggling to compete with Amazon
while black authors and multicultural booksellers are pushing for equity in publishing, centering Third World Press is important.
The Chicago-based bookseller is historic for many reasons. Not only does Third World Press publish works by everyone from noted psychologist Asa Hilliard to historian and professor Cornel West to the masterful poet Brooks, but it also has a long back catalogue of works key to understanding nuanced aspects of American history. Also, given the nation’s current discourse on black history in schools, Third World Press carries several books about pedagogy and the why’s and how’s of curriculums that truthfully teach history of the African-American experience. Madhubuti, who holds several degrees and has taught at Howard University, Morgan State University and Cornell, is a legend amongst the writing community. That said, given his position as one of the creators of the Black Arts Movement, Madhubuti’s contribution to American and global culture is massive. To boot, the Third World Press Foundation also runs several independent schools in Chicago.
The flood happened in December 2022, when a pipe burst in the basement of the business. Such incidences are not unheard of in Chicago, where temperatures can drop to below zero with regularity. The building also subsequently lost heat, so employees were working against water and the cold in order to preserve boxes of books that were primed and ready for sale. (The upper levels of the building were not damaged by the flooding.)
Madhubuti says that TWP lost about a third of its inventory, which usually makes up a considerable part of the budget for the top of the year. Authors who were expecting a January or February release will be reprinted but, it will take a little time before all inventory is ready to go. That said, the company is still shipping titles daily as not everything was lost.
Sixteen new titles are slated to go on sale this year, he says. These include Letters/Poems by Sonia Sanchez and Ngugi; Black! Feminist! Free! Selective Writings, Interviews and Speeches by Beverly Guy-Sheftall; Along Martin Luther King, Travels On Black America’s Main Street by Jonathan Tilove and A New Black Reconstruction: The Thought, Activism & Love of Edmund Gordon edited by Ezekiel Dixon-Roman, David Wall Rice, Carol D. Lee and Haki R. Madhubuti. One 2022 title by Adelaide Sanford, From Enslavement to Belovedness: for the Dignity of my People will also be reprinted.
“We are gonna be okay,” adds Madhubuti. “And we got to be okay because the people have spoken.”