To Make a Book
By Stefanie Brook Trout, Ice Cube Press Intern, editor Prairie Gold: Anthology of the Heartland
I grew up in Western Michigan, the youngest of three daughters. We didn’t have a lot of money for extras, but my mom could never say no if my sisters or I asked her to buy a book. “Do you need it?” she would always ask, and when we said yes, she never tried to tell us otherwise.
In the past 25-ish years since I learned to read, a lot of things have changed, but the way I feel about books—the way I need books—hasn’t. I’m not just referring to stories and the pleasures of reading but the books themselves, the physical artifacts that contain the stories and endure long after you’ve forgotten what they were about.
And though I have always had a great appreciation for libraries and used bookstores, there is something extra special about a brand new book: the unscuffed cover, the cleanness of the pages, the spine that I will try to keep uncracked for as long as possible. Inevitably, there comes a time with every good book that I realize I need to mutilate it—by folding the corner of a page, writing a note to myself, or underlining a memorable passage—and though I recognize the value of such interactions with the text, especially as a writer, I do not take the decision to first desecrate a book lightly.
The fact that I am a writer, not just a reader, took some time for me to realize. I only dabbled in creative writing until after I already had a Master’s degree and a full time job teaching. Reading, and to some extent its inverse, were things that I enjoyed, but they weren’t something real people like me made careers out of. The idea of actually “being a writer” seemed as much an impossibility as becoming a Broadway star.
I had been living in Indianapolis for three years, and the distance from my family and closest friends gave me a new perspective. I realized that the interesting experiences I’d had were at once unique and universal, but they already felt far away. I realized that I was already beginning to forget people I used to know so well—loved, even. I realized, at 26, that time was already getting the best of me.
I grew hungry for my own stories, and they lingered just below the surface of memory like the custard of a crème brûlée. I started writing—or I resumed writing, really, but for the first time, I was conscious of the fact that I was undertaking a serious business. I began, ambitiously, with a novel because that’s what I loved the most. And though it became clear to me, three chapters in, that I really didn’t know what I was doing, the process of translating my reality into fiction cracked it all open for me. I managed the effects of time by forcing it to content with the lasting power of the printed word.
Three years later, I’ve written first drafts of two novels and parts of at least five other books-in-progress. I write other things too—essays, poems, you name it—but the complexity of a work sustained over the length of an entire book is much more appealing to me. It requires commitment, from both writer and reader, a mutual trust that binds the two together as co-conspirators.
This essay is supposed to be about why I am drawn to publishing. It might seem like it’s about why I write books, and it’s about that too, and probably more. It’s all the same: I’m passionate about books. I want to write them. I want to edit them. I want to publish them. I want to tell people all about them. I want to help make something that will sit on library shelves long after I’m gone.
Books don’t just happen. Working on Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland has been the most collaborative project I’ve ever been a part of. I am incredibly proud and also humbled by the book’s release. It’s beautiful—inside and out—and I’m glad my first book includes writing by 70 people other than myself. Because publishing isn’t about seeking recognition for me but adding to the annals of history that define who we are right now, and I can think of no better contribution than a multi-genre collection of work dedicated to my home, the Midwest.
There’s an anthropology to regional literature. As humans, we define ourselves in relationship to our environments, and our writing says as much about place and time as it does people. The artifacts we choose to create, not for money but some other, higher purpose, are evidence of who we are, what we value, and how we live.
As a Midwestern book publisher, Ice Cube Press is dedicated to just that, and through my internship, I am learning not just how to publish books but how to curate contemporary art that transcends the ordinary passage of time.