On the other hand, as Belt Publishing founder Anne Trubek lamented shortly after the election, writing about the midwest isn’t necessarily writing for midwesterners, much less by them. There’s something anthropological, even “colonial,” as Trubek puts it, in stories that purport to explain former steel towns and lakeside diners. And if you happen to be a schoolteacher or sales rep in a blue midwestern city, or black or Muslim or undocumented, it’s unclear how much of this wave of midwestern journalism sees you as a reader or as a subject.
In this context, a slim pair of new books from Belt Publishing takes on greater heft. The independent Cleveland-based publishing house has made covering the rust belt for a rust-belt audience with rust-belt writers its unsung and noble task since 2013. But these releases are an ambitious attempt to cover an entire region, authored by its natives and for them as well. One, Edward McClelland’s How to Speak Midwestern, rescues our regional dialects, demolishing the myth that midwestern speech is accentless; the second, Mark Athitakis’s The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt, profiles dozens of contemporary novelists from the middle of the country.