I spent the bulk of the 1990s in graduate school, reading novels, mainly American ones, particularly those published between 1870 and 1920. I wrote a very overwrought, theory-soaked dissertation on some of these novels (“Picturing Time: American Literary Realism and the Problem of Perspective"—I have the dot matrix-printed file somewhere).
The novels and non-fiction I studied—by Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Frank Norris, Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells, Rebecca Harding Davis, and others, were not as capital L literary as the more-oft read ‘classics’ of the periods before and after—the Herman Melvilles, Nathaniel Hawthornes, F. Scott Fitzgeralds and Willa Cathers--but I found them equally absorbing. And they hewed closer to my goal of studying literature’s relationship to historical knowledge and social change.
For these authors, realism, or naturalism, was a way to express a specific political conviction and leaning, to move the country towards progressivism, or socialism, or reform, to rub the gilding off the age and give away flecks to the needy. These goals, and their granular depiction of American lives outside drawing rooms, drew me in.
Two decades later these same words are just as vital, but seem to tell different stories. They are now tales of the Midwest, and geographic inequality, and the shift from agricultural to industrial life. They are books about small towns and small minds, the rise of large companies, and the constraints of being a woman.
The present, it keeps changing the past.
This spring, Belt Publishing is excited to launch a new series, Belt Revivals, dedicated to re-introducing these works to readers, not only because the books have always been under appreciated, but because many readers are newly curious about the Midwest.
Each book in the series includes an introduction by a writer with both historical expertise and insight into our contemporary moment. With nods to our favorite ‘classics’ series of the past, we include a checklist of Belt Revival titles in the back of each book, should you want to chart your progress through the series, and we are offering a subscription to the series for 2018.
We cannot wait to share these unjustly forgotten, newly relevant books with you.
--Anne Trubek, Publisher