New publishing company launches books about diverse Iowans

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Photo by Past Present Future Publishing.
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Books highlight history of racism in Iowa and LGBTIQA+ Iowans for young readers  

Des Moines, IA –  An innovative new publishing company in Des Moines is launching its first two titles this month. Past Present Future Publishing was co-founded by social studies education expert Katy Swalwell and artist Jennifer Leatherby as a way to lift up stories from the margins in Iowa with national significance. “A common stereotype about Iowa is that it’s a homogeneous state where nothing that important ever happens,” explains Swalwell. “We want our books to challenge that stereotype because it’s simply not true—this is and always has been a complex, diverse, consequential place worth learning about.” The company’s goal is to help readers better understand the past and present in order to build a better future. 

The co-founders met while working on the popular Amazing Iowa book series published by RAYGUN. “We realized we both love art and history, and we’re both deeply committed to equity and justice work,” explains Leatherby. “PPF Publishing has become a way to apply our expertise and interests to help people share stories that need to be better known in a way that funnels resources back into their communities.” The for-profit company prioritizes working with Iowan authors and illustrators from minoritized backgrounds, with all profits going towards organizations supporting youth justice work in the state. 

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Their first two titles, available now for pre-order at www.ppf-publishing.com, are (Re)Present: Racism & Resistance in Iowa for young adults and From Here & Queer: A Love Letter to LGBTQIA+ Youth for elementary-age children. Both provide what Swalwell says is much-needed information about history and current events in the state. “Recent legislation has made it really hard for kids to learn about the history of their communities or even ask questions about what they and their families are experiencing—especially for Indigenous People, People of Color, and anyone who is LGBTQIA+.” Leatherby agrees, “Our books respond to those attacks with a clear message that we do belong, that these histories are real and shouldn’t be ignored.” 

  • (Re)Present: Racism & Resistance in Iowa was written by a collective of historians, educators, and community organizers. The book challenges several myths about Iowa through dozens of vignettes featuring historical and current events related to racism and resistance in the state. Primary sources are supplemented with illustrations from local artists Jameson Malone and Cameron Gray. “There’s no way to really understand Iowa without understanding how central colonialism, racism, and xenophobia have been in Iowa’s history and how creative and courageous people have been in their survival and resistance,” explains Christine Her, the Executive Director of ArtForce Iowa who is also a contributor the book and a member of the PPF Publishing advisory board. “This is the first book that really ties these histories together in a beautiful and compelling way.”
  • From Here & Queer: A Love Letter to LGBTQIA+ Youth is written by Swalwell and illustrated by Alex Barr. With rhyming prose and bright illustrations, the book follows a concerned parent as they introduce their discouraged child to over 80 LGBTQIA+ Iowans from different generations, backgrounds, and lines of work. Together, they create a scrapbook that becomes the book itself as proof that their family does belong in Iowa. “As a young queer artist, I really wanted the book to be joyful and inviting to inspire kids to make their own scrapbooks about LGBTQIA+ history wherever they live,” explains Barr.
  • Future projects already underway include a picture book by Mary Beth Tinker illustrated by Keshini Ladduwahetty about the Tinker v. Des Moines 1969 Supreme Court Case and an allegory for resilience and survival about Sparky the Bison written by an Altoona elementary school teacher who volunteers at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. “We can’t overstate the importance of having stories that reflect an intentionally diverse range of people’s lives, joys, and concerns,” explains Luis Luján, PPF Publishing advisory board member and Nos Books founder. “It’s exciting to think about what books we will be able to help create and what their impact will be through this approach to publishing.” 

PPF Publishing will also offer extension activities for teachers, discussion guides, and programming ideas on their website (www.ppf-publishing.com) and translations upon request. According to Leatherby, “Partnering with community organizations and institutions like schools, museums, libraries for events help spread these stories more widely and connect us with potential authors and artists for collaboration.” The co-founders invite proposals from authors and portfolios from artists, as well as ideas for sponsoring projects. 

For more information, visit www.ppf-publishing.com

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