When Stuart Matlins and his wife Antoinette founded Jewish Lights Publishing in 1990 their intentions were clear. “We decided part of our life goals was to influence and affect the Jewish future, not just talk about it and complain,” Matlins told the Forward over the phone. Since then, the small press, which grew out of a congregation the duo founded in Woodstock, Vermont and produces 40 to 50 books a year, has helped shape conversations about Judaism between Jews and non-Jews alike.
The late May announcement that the press would be sold to Nashville’s Turner Publishing – alongside three other imprints Matlins established under his holding company, LongHill Partners Inc. – has been met with some anxiety. According to Matlins, readers have no cause to worry about the future of Jewish Lights, one of only a few Jewish American presses producing new material.
“Turner acquired what I built because they liked it,” Matlins said. “Smart people don’t change what works.”
While none of LongHill’s staff will be joining Turner Publishing, Matlins confirmed that key staff members would remain involved in guiding Jewish Lights. He would not reveal details of that arrangement.
“Turner acquired Jewish Lights to build on it,” he said. “Their philosophy is exactly the same as mine, which is you are driven by the quality of what you want to publish, not the quantity.”
Turner has no immediate plans to increase or decrease the number of publications issued by Jewish Lights, which publishes a wide variety of Jewish-interest books, ranging from graphic novels and mysteries to congregational resources and works on grief and healing. Turner will continue to accept manuscript submissions.
Matlins emphasized that the decision to sell Jewish Lights was based on an evaluation of the press’s needs in a struggling market.
“When I started Jewish Lights my job was to get books into bookstores, because that was the only place they were available,” he said. “In order to reach the bookstore audience we now [need] to be part of a larger organization with a stronger bookstore sales force and a stronger gift shop sales force, and Turner offers that to us.”
Turner was one of several publishers and nonprofits to make bids for LongHill. “After considering a number of alternatives, I decided that Turner offered the best combination of what was good for the community and what was good for me and for my colleagues,” Matlins said.
More details of the transition, which will officially begin at the end of June, will be revealed in the fall. For Jewish Lights, it was important that the change didn’t impede the work to which they were already committed.
“The fall 2016 books are almost all printer-ready, and will be coming out on time,” Matlins said.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax