Beacon Press: History and Mission
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History & Mission

Beacon Press® is an independent publisher of serious non-fiction. Our books often change the way readers think about fundamental issues; they promote such values as freedom of speech and thought; diversity, religious pluralism, and anti-racism; and respect for diversity in all areas of life.

Our History

Founded in 1854, Beacon has published many ground-breaking classics, including James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, Jean Baker Miller’s Toward a New Psychology of Women, and Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology. In 1971, Beacon printed the Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papers in 5 volumes. This groundbreaking achievement marked the first time those papers had appeared in book form. Beacon is also the publisher of Marian Wright Edelman’s best-selling book, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, and Cornel West’s acclaimed Race Matters. Recent publications include such widely acclaimed and best-selling books as James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Judith Heumann’s Being Heumann, Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . and the Rest of Y’all Too, and Gayl Jones’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist, Palmares.

For more on our history, please consult A Brief History of Beacon Press, published on the occasion of our 150th anniversary.

Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers: On October 22, 2006, Beacon Press commemorated the 35th anniversary of publication of The Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papers—the first full edition of the top secret Defense Department studies that exposed decades of US decision-making in Vietnam. On June 24, 2007, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman moderated a panel at General Assembly with Dan Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel and Former UUA President Bob West on the role of Beacon Press in publishing the Pentagon Papers. Click here for more information.

Beacon Today

Our current publishing program emphasizes religion, history, current affairs, political science, gay/lesbian/gender studies, education, African-American studies, women’s studies, child and family issues and nature and the environment. Beacon and its authors have received National Book Awards, the American Book Award, the Christopher Award, the National Writers Union Golden Pen Award, the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Book Publication, and the PEN New England L. L. Winship Award and Friend to Writers Award, and has been named the New England Publisher of the Year.

In the words of New York Times best-selling author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “Beacon Press is truly a beacon, shining light on the past, spotlighting what matters in the present, and guiding us toward a better world. I am honored and humbled to be a part of the Beacon family.”

Beacon is an associate member of the Association of American University Presses. We are a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Beacon Press and Social Impact

The Beacon Social Impact Report makes an effort to capture the moments and conversations that Beacon titles have driven over the course of the previous calendar year. Like other publishers, we use metrics of the business world to report on our financial results. But this report answers these questions: How can we, as a mission-driven nonprofit publishing house, measure the impact and social benefits of our work? In what way do our books touch lives and bring about change? You can download the full report.

Articles about Beacon Press

Gayatri Patnaik Named Director of Beacon Press
Gayatri Patnaik has been appointed the next director of nonprofit publisher Beacon Press, effective July 30. The news comes after Beacon director Helene Atwan announced plans to retire. Read more.

WNDB Launches Virtual Community for Mid-Level Diverse Publishing Professionals
We Need Diverse Books announced on Wednesday that the nonprofit advocacy organization working to eliminate systemic racism in book publishing is partnering with Beacon Press and Hachette Book Group to launch in late spring Rise Up, an initiative designed to support diverse mid-level publishing professionals in an effort to increase their industry retention rates. WNDB will facilitate an online community platform on a private Discord server for mid-level professionals who work in both adult and children’s publishing to connect, network, and share resources. Read more.

Interview with an Indie Press: Beacon Press
Beacon Press—which Edwidge Danticat has praised as “a home for readers seeking a more inclusive and innovative literary experience”—has a long history of publishing forward-looking, boundary-pushing work, particularly from authors addressing injustice and inequality. Founded in 1854 under the American Unitarian Association, the press now mainly publishes nonfiction books with an emphasis on social issues . . . Read more.

Praise for Beacon Press

“Beacon Press is a long-distance runner for truth and justice.”
—Cornel West

“If we succeed in renewing the spirit of the American Constitution after the confusions of our day, it will be in considerable measure to the credit of the courageous efforts of the Unitarians and their Beacon Press.”
—Albert Einstein

“I really cherish independent presses, and particularly Beacon, which has maintained its integrity for such a long time and has insisted on publishing books that it cared about without being constrained by profit. Beacon Press has shown special courage over the years. They have always simply done what they thought was important.”
—Howard Zinn

“Beacon Press is a publisher that values ideas that benefit humanity and foster solutions to the world’s most vexing problems. Working with Beacon Press has been an exceptional experience for me as a writer, academic and advocate for equality. The process throughout felt like being in a partnership with people who respected me and each other. We were all doing our best to produce books with potential to inform and heal the world. I’m proud to be among the authors the Beacon team has published.”
—Anita Hill

“I could not have asked for a more supportive and woke-ass publisher than Beacon Press. Whereas other presses would have clutched their pearls, Beacon eagerly embraced my voice and my politics from the start.”
—Crystal M. Fleming

“Beacon Press is a gem in a publishing world rendered increasingly impoverished by global corporatization. Remarkably, it steadfastly combines serious progressive content with inspired writing and beautiful design. In a world where market values have triumphed over most others, Beacon’s moral vision is a treasure.”
—Juliet Schor

“For the past 150 years, Beacon has been a home for readers seeking a more inclusive and innovative literary experience.”
—Edwidge Danticat

“The Unitarians and Beacon Press have consistently shown the kind of civic courage that we must have for our country to survive as a democracy.”—
Daniel Ellsberg

“Beacon Press is brilliant, fearless, wide-ranging, and a friend of democracy.”
—Junot Díaz

“Beacon Press continues to pioneer in publishing works that are central to an embracing vision of the American people and our future together. Their books are always beautifully produced, of the highest literary and artistic quality, and able to bridge the best of scholarship with popular accessibility.”
—Dana Frank

“Beacon Press is an American treasure. In its longtime commitment to cultivating the practices essential to building a healthy diverse democracy, it pushes America to live up to its noblest ideals.”
—Eboo Patel

Our Mission

The mission of our publishing program is to affirm and promote these principles: the inherent worth and dignity of every person, especially historically marginalized people, economically disadvantaged people, BIPOC people, LGBTQQIA+ people, and people of all abilities, ethnic heritages, and gender identities; justice, equity, compassion and inclusivity in human relations; acceptance of one another, and of multiple perspectives, to better engage new audiences with progressive ideas; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the importance of scholarship and credible journalism to address misinformation and strengthen democratic citizenship; the right of conscience, the value of religious pluralism, and the use of the democratic process in society; the goal of world community, free from oppression, with peace and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web of all existence; especially in a world facing global climate change; the importance of free speech and a free press, and of literature and the arts, in democratic life.