For thirty-four years the Iowa City–based independent bookstore Prairie Lights (prairielights.com) has been known as a champion of new and established literary writers. In partnership with the University of Iowa, Prairie Lights plans to extend its reach this spring by launching its own press, Prairie Lights Books. Jan Weissmiller and Jane Mead, co-owners of the store since 2008, cite their close relationship with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Iowa Press, along with the ever-changing landscape of the bookselling industry, as the impetus for starting the press. “It’s a
challenge for bookstores right now,” Weissmiller says, “so we’ve been thinking about ways to keep Prairie Lights sustainable.” Without the time, background, or resources, she adds, the co-owners wouldn’t be able to do it on their own. “With the university so close, it just made sense. We feel very lucky to have such a great partnership.” That local connection runs deep: Both Weissmiller and Mead are graduates of the Workshop, and the team often collaborates with the press on book releases, readings, and other in-store programming. With Mead and Weissmiller at the helm, Prairie Lights Books plans to publish original poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as a selection of reprints. The co-owners will acquire and edit titles, and the University of Iowa Press will produce, market, and distribute them. The first two Prairie Lights books, in celebration of Writers’ Workshop alum Philip Levine, are scheduled for publication this spring: A reissue of Levine’s 1985 poetry collection, Sweet Will, originally published by Atheneum, will be released in April, and a new essay collection titled Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, edited by Mari L’Esperance and Tomas Q. Morin and featuring contributions by poets Nick Flynn, Sharon Olds, and David St. John, among others, will be released in May. The press plans to publish between two and four titles each year, and though the editors are currently accepting only solicited work, they hope to announce reading periods and submission guidelines in the near future. For now, Weissmiller says, they’re interested in publishing work by established writers who are doing new and unusual things. “We believe in books,” Weissmiller says, “and we believe in art being seen.”
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