Making waves in 2023: A year in review

Milkweed Staff — 12/22/2023

As we near the end of 2023, we find ourselves reflecting and looking forward. We hope you’ll join us in doing the same by reading, sharing, and celebrating a few highlights of 2023—none of which would have been possible without you.

We can’t wait to reach new heights, elevate more transformative voices, and make waves in the cultural conversation in 2024, empowered by your belief in our mission to publish life-changing literature.

In the meantime, read on to find out why Ada Limón, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Debra Magpie Earling, Elizabeth Rush, and our roster of debut authors are among our most ground-breaking, ice-melting, and earth-shattering stories of the year.

The cosmic transcendence of Ada Limón

Ada Limón was inaugurated as the 24th US Poet Laureate in September of 2022, and in 2023, we celebrated the Library of Congress’s follow-up announcement of a historic two-year second term for Limón. Since then, the star-poet has also engaged in a transcendent, first-of-its-kind collaboration with NASA; unveiled her ambitious, dual-pronged project, “You Are Here,” featuring both a stunning anthology of fifty original nature poems by fifty commissioned poets across the US and a series of seven installations of poetry as public art across various national parks; and was most recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”) in recognition of her singular ability to “[counterbalance] grief with wonder in works that heighten our awareness of the natural world and our connections to one another.” Whether stoking reverence for life on earth, or launching her luminous words into the cosmos, Limón proves time and again how poetry has the power to transcend the page.  

The tenth anniversary of Braiding Sweetgrass

We often say it’s hard to imagine another example of a publisher who has been so transformed by a single book. But in considering the uniquely infectious impact of Potawatami botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass—the book that has been published into some twenty-five languages, has sold more than three million copies worldwide, has graced the New York Times Bestseller list for three consecutive years, and has earned its author a world-renowned MacArthur Fellowship—it’s no wonder that we’ve been so moved to evolve as an organization. In 2023, as we celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the book that has made so much possible for us, we reformulated our organizational values in accordance with the book’s most impactful teachings. Looking ahead to the years to come, we’re inspired to lead with gratitude, reciprocity, and mutual flourishing.

A prominent Indigenous author reemerges

Bitterroot Salish author Debra Magpie Earling once questioned if her writing career might be over. She broke ground in the literary world back in 2002 with the publication of her debut novel, Perma Red, only for it to go out of print four years later. But everything changed when our Publisher & CEO Daniel Slager made an offer Earling couldn’t refuse. After years of intensive collaboration, in 2022, Milkweed repackaged Perma Red and reintroduced it to the world to wide acclaim, as part of a unique two-book deal. And just this year, we celebrated the publication of her second novel, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, which was stunningly featured in the New York Times and elsewhere. We’re grateful to have played a meaningful role in the inspiring reemergence of a major writer whose work boldly challenges the whitewashed histories of the American West. And we’re all the more grateful that Earling trusted us to be her new publishing home.

Elizabeth Rush’s The Quickening makes waves

This highly-anticipated title from Elizabeth Rush arrived on waves of buzz from Vogue, New York Times, and NPR. After her previous book, Rising, was recognized as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rush’s newest title, The Quickening, offers a singular combination of climate science reportage, travel writing, and memoir. While the icebreaker research ship sluices through antarctic sea ice toward the calving edge of the Thwaites Glacier, Rush records the unsung stories of the ship’s crew. The Quickening is a new kind of Antarctica story, preoccupied not with flag planting but rather one that demonstrates the necessary collaborative spirit for a better climate future. It also asks questions personal to Rush: What does it mean to bring a child into a world experiencing immense ecological harm? Rush capped off her national book tour with an unforgettable keynote at the twenty-fourth annual Book Lovers Ball, a celebration of Milkweed Editions’ legacy as an industry leader in the publication of ecological literature and its transformative power. Rush regaled her audience with stories of her crew members, turning them into fully rounded characters with their own hopes and faults. The collaborative narrative that emerged from this unique cast of characters is exemplary of the labor necessary for a more livable climate and the fight for our future selves.

Milkweed’s commitment to debut authors

We believe bringing new voices to essential conversations offers a vital path to ensuring a vibrant and diverse literary ecosystem. Of the books we published this past year, roughly one third come from debut authors. Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe’s spellbinding debut collection of poems, Rose Quartz, a powerful journey of struggle and healing, was named one of Library Journal’s “Books to Read in 2023.” Debut poet and Jake Adam York prize winner Christopher Brean Murray’s Black Observatory turns a powerful lens upon the strange darkness of human existence amidst unnerving landscapes and received selection as a “Best Book of 2023” by the New York Public Library. Milkweed also published two electric debut works of fiction this year. Shilpi Suneja’s evocative debut novel, House of Caravans, explores the fractures caused by the Partition of India and legacies of sectarian violence around the world. Amber Caron’s magnetic debut collection of stories, Call Up the Waters, details the working class lives and labor of girls and women in rural America.

Looking ahead, we have a slate of stunning poetic debuts for immediate publication in the New Year. We are excited to share Yalie Saweda Kamara’s first book, Besaydoo, which offers an elegantly wrought love song to Oakland, communal witnessing, and an elegy housed in a sanctuary of praise. Caroline Harper New’s debut collection, A History of Half-Birds, traces how tenderness is coupled with brutality: a deer eats a baby bird, a lover restrains another. It is a stunning investigation of love’s beastly impulses. The newest entry in Multiverse is Tressing Motions at the Edge of Mistakes, Imane Boukaila’s debut as a published author. It’s a liberatory philosophy that exists at the periphery, in all the places where life opens toward neurodiverse revolution. We believe these are books that have immense transformative potential and foster conversation and reflection on our relationship to place and the more-than-human-world. With your support we will continue to nurture that work and shape the literary landscape in new and groundbreaking ways.