Over the years, Wisconsin has had a number of publishers that specialized in local books. At one time, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Milwaukee Public Museum, and the Milwaukee Country Historical Society had active publishing programs. There were private publishers like Amherst Press and Wisconsin Trails. Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had books. But publishing is a time-and-money-intensive operation, and even with the costs greatly reduced by digital publishing, the infrastructure of having dedicated staff has led many entities, both for profit and nonprofit, to put their resources elsewhere.
Arcadia Press and History Press, recently merged, have taken up the slack a bit, using standardized formatting to keep costs in check. Other national presses who specialize in multi-market localized books sometimes come along with hits, especially when they use local writers. We don't see as much from Globe Peguot, now a part of Rowan and Littlefield, but we just had our first entry from St. Louis's Reedy Press. And Chicago's Agate Publishing had two hits with Wisconsin Supper Clubs and Sanford D'Amato's Good Stock.*
That last book was influential in raising Increase Lapham's profile enough that he is now going on the Wisconsin Writer's Wall of Fame. MPL's Central Library will be having a ceremony featuring John Gurda introducing the writers, Martha Bergland and Paul Hayes, on Tuesday, September 15, 6 to 7:30 pm. Following the induction ceremony, landscape historian Rob Nurre will present a program in the persona of Dr. Lapham, introducing treasures from the Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room as well as from his personal collection.
It was the end of the summer and I thought I needed a little road trip so I made plants to drive to Madison to see ex-Boswellian Halley (of the Boswell and Books greeting card posts), who now works at the Society. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a beautiful building on the campus of UW-Madison that features exhibits in the lobby, in addition to the State Historical Society Museum on the Square. I spent some time looking at Frank Lloyd Wright materials, including architectural plants. I still find myself calling it the State Historical Society of Wisconsin - our old inventory was STATE, and as always, it took years for us to migrate to WHS. Now the books come from the University of Chicago warehouse, and combine with other distributees like the University of Wisconsin Press, so they all go under CDC.
This fall the Society has a bounty of Wisconsin titles, and many of authors will be doing events in and around the Milwaukee area. This seemed like a great time to highlight them for you.
Wednesday, October 7, 7 pm, at the Oconomowoc Public Library, 200 W. South St.: Rick March, author Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polkatakes readers along on a joyful romp through the Midwestern musical traditions that give the "oompah-pah" of polka its sustaining beat.
Tuesday, October 13, 7 pm, at Books and Company, 1039 Summit Ave. in Oconomowoc: Beloved mystery writer Kathleen Ernst, best known for the Chloe Ellefson series, draws on Old World Wisconsin in her new photographic history, A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons. There's construction on the street, so follow the signs for the Whitman Park Shopping Center and you'll get there with ease.
Sunday, October 25, 2 pm: Jerry Apps at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, 1111 E Brown Deer Rd. east of I43 in Bayside. The featured title will be Whispers and Shadows: A Naturalist's Memoir airing on Milwaukee Public Television this fall. Apps is the author of many books, including the newly release and Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Admission to the Schlitz grounds is $8, free for members of course.
And finally, on Friday, November 20, 7 pm, at Boswell: James K Nelsen, author of Educating Milwaukee: How One City's History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools. I have just finished this book and it's a fascinating book at how Milwaukee Public Schools has copied with educating children in the face of changing economics, racial makeup, and educational trends. Forced busing, magnet schools, school choice, charter schools, magnet schools, integration vs. nationalism, it's all there.
So yes, I decry the loss of some of the generators of local interest books but fortunately, folks come along to take up the slack. Historic Milwaukee, Inc. has the long-awaited book by John Gurda, illustrated by Jan Kotowicz, Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods. The launch is Thursday, September 24, at the Grain Exchange Room. We'll have a talk (one of several around town) from Mr. Gurda on Wednesday, December 2, 7 pm.
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