Anne Trubek started a publishing company on a lark. In 2012, Trubek, a writer, professor, and single mother, had been given a $20,000 artist fellowship by Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Country — paid for by cigarette taxes — and she wanted to show her appreciation to the community by creating something for it. She thought it would be interesting to publish a collection of essays about Cleveland, and when she put out a call for submissions, she received 80 pitches in the span of three weeks. “It was the right thing at the right time,” she says.
She started Belt Publishing the very next year. It has gone from that first collection of essays — Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology — to a nationally recognized independent press and the parent company of a nonprofit online magazine, with a booklist of twenty titles and a staff of six. Trubek is giving people from the Rust Belt, a region that stretches roughly from Buffalo to Chicago and is named for its once-powerful industrial base, a platform on which to tell their stories — instead of having others, often from the coasts, control the narrative.
Trubek tells me all this at Belt’s office, where we’re sitting at the table she uses as her desk. It’s shoved into a corner, near some windows, of a large warehouse room filled with piles and piles and piles of boxes of the Belt back catalog. Curly-haired and prone to busting out in a grin, Trubek seems very much at home in what is basically a storeroom. (That said, shortly after our interview, Trubek moved Belt to a new, more office-y space in Tremont, a neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side that has gentrified while still managing to retain its working-class roots.) After Rust Belt Chic sold well, “People were like, ‘So, what are you guys going to do next?’ I was like, ‘Nothing,’” she says. “But there was this energy, so I said, ‘Why don’t we do a web version of this book, have it be essays about the Rust Belt?’”
And thus Belt magazine was born. Although Trubek no longer oversees its day-to-day operation — that’s a job for the new editor-in-chief, hired last year after Trubek relaunched the magazine as a nonprofit enterprise — she still serves as its chair of the board. What she really focuses on, what she really loves, is publishing books.
This all might seem exhausting — and Trubek admits that it is — but she has a long history of hustling. She’s originally from Madison, Wisconsin, and she came to Ohio permanently in 1998 with her then-husband. The couple had landed jobs as professors at Oberlin College, where they had both been undergrads. Their son was born in 1999. In 2001, her husband had an affair, and Trubek suddenly found herself a single mother whose joint custody arrangement meant she could never move anywhere else if she wanted to see her son. (Trubek left her job teaching writing at Oberlin in 2015; her ex-husband continues to work there.)
Trubek picked up freelance writing to make extra money, and by 2012, she had noticed a trend in the way national publications covered Rust Belt cities, in particular Cleveland, which was undergoing something of a revival. “I would keep reading these things and think, Why didn’t they call me? Or why didn’t they ask someone from Cleveland to write this?” she says. Not that she would have presented the rosy view that so much of the writing of the time was calling for. “Cleveland boosters won’t ever admit there are any problems in this city. That drives me nuts. ‘We’re doing so great!’ I’m like, ‘Hey, have you looked at the actual Census figures lately? Have you noticed your houses aren’t worth any more [money]? Have you noticed that there are still no jobs?’”