From the 414 area code, on 4/14, we've created a booklist to celebrate Milwaukee-based and Milwaukee-raised authors on Milwaukee Day.
Porchlight Book Company (even before we were called Porchlight) has always called Milwaukee home. And today, on 4/14, in the area code of 414, our city celebrates its history, its up-and-comings, its artists, its locals, its small businesses, its sports teams, its everything. As a business that was started in a storied Milwaukee bookstore, we’d like to share a little bit of that history with you today.
Harry W. Schwartz opened his first bookshop on Milwaukee’s East Side in 1927 … situated in, of all places, a corner of The Downer Beauty Parlor. In 1937, the shop moved to Milwaukee's main street, Wisconsin Avenue, now bearing a name it would carry until 2009—Harry’s own, the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop.
In 1972, the business passed to Harry’s son, A. David Schwartz, who had returned with his daughter Rebecca from a commune in Maine, finally ready to reconcile his communist spirit with the capitalist structure required to run a successful business. In 1984, he hired Jack Covert to oversee and grow the business book section of what was then still a single Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in downtown Milwaukee. Jack developed that section of the store into a business of its own, and though Schwartz Business Books (our first name) was still a part of what became a local chain of Schwartz Bookshops, it grew alongside—and separate from—them.
While David was busy expanding the bookshop and opening up new locations to compete with the big box stores in the bricks and mortar world, Jack was growing his side of the enterprise as well. He developed a mail order, over-the-phone, and, eventually, online business that shipped books to corporate libraries and author events all over the state—eventually all over the country, and even the world.
The business took on a life of its own and moved to the back office of the store’s administrative offices, where there was a loading dock to move books in bulk and space for our expanding customer service operation. That part of the business changed names a few times along the way, eventually settling on 800-CEO-READ in the late 1990s to emphasize our customer service, our call center, and our focus on business books. That, then, is the business Porchlight grew out of, though many aspects other than our name have changed since then.
Porchlight is still owned and overseen by the Schwartz family. It was led by David’s wife, Carol Grossmeyer, in the years following his death until she retired in 2016. That is when Rebecca Schwartz, David’s daughter and Harry’s granddaughter, left her former life sharing the love and power of literature with her students as a high school English teacher to become our CEO. Today, she dedicates herself to furthering our goal to spread books and ideas around the country and all over the world—both in boxes of physical books and through our consistent and considerable efforts online—in order to help readers, organizations, and communities grow and thrive.
Our community has expanded over the years–from the readers in our neighborhood to folks everywhere who love, need and believe in books and the people in publishing who labor to bring them to life. Through the many years, many evolutions, and many dedicated employees championing books in many ways, the profit we seek is still, first and foremost, that social profit—the impact of books on people, on the organizations we ship them to, and on the community.
So, as Porchlight continues making mostly long-distance connections with authors, publishers, and publicists, we also like to take time to engage with and appreciate the book community in our own city. And Milwaukee Day, or 414 Day, is a perfect time to share with our own readers the Milwaukee-based and Milwaukee-raised authors we love.
We see you and we read you, Milwaukee authors!
Carrie Melissa Jones | Building Brand Communities: How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Carrie Melissa Jones is the founder of Gather Community Consulting and the former COO and founding partner of CMX. Her work has helped build communities with Google, Patreon, the American Medical Association, Coursera, and DoSomething.org. She is a graduate of UCLA and an M.A. researcher at UW-Milwaukee.
Dasha Kelly Hamilton | Almost Crimson, Curbside Splendor Publishing; Makin’ Cake (Upcoming Release)
Dasha Kelly is a writer, performance artist and creative change agent, applying the creative process to facilitate dialogues around human and social wellness. She is the author of three poetry collections, four spoken word albums; and two novels. She has taught on college campuses, at professional conferences and in K-12 classrooms. She has performed on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and her commissioned production, Makin' Cake, is mounting a national tour. An Arts Envoy for the U.S. Embassy, Dasha has taught, performed and facilitated community building initiatives in Botswana, Mauritius and Beirut. In 2016, she was named Artist of the Year by the City of Milwaukee and, in 2019, Dasha was inaugurated as Milwaukee's 11th Poet Laureate. For almost two decades, her nonprofit, Still Waters Collective, has created platforms for thousands of voices to be honored and heard.
Dan Egan | The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, W.W. Norton & Company
Dan Egan is the author of New York Times bestseller The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. A journalist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences, he is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and children.
Deanna Singh | Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace, Portfolio
Deanna Singh is the Founder and Chief Change Agent of Flying Elephant, an umbrella organization for four social ventures. Through their work in the spheres of DEI, healthcare, children's literature, and leadership, these four companies aim to shift power to marginalized communities. Deanna is an accomplished author, educator, business leader, and social justice champion who speaks to over 50,000 people annually, giving audiences the tools and courage to imagine, activate, and impact the world as agents of change. She has been recognized by the Milwaukee Business Journal as one of the community’s most influential 40 Under 40 Leaders, the State of Wisconsin as a "Women Who Inspires," and by Forbes as an "African American Woman Everyone Should Know." She recently published a book with American Girl, entitled, A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion.
Erica Ruth Neubauer | The Jane Wunderly Mystery series, Kensington Publishing Corp.
Erica Ruth Neubauer is the Agatha Award-winning author of the Jane Wunderly Mysteries, as well as an Anthony Award and Lefty Award finalist. She spent eleven years in the military, nearly two as a Maryland police officer, and one as a high school English teacher, before finding her way as a writer. She has been a reviewer of mysteries and crime fiction for publications such as Publishers Weekly and Mystery Scene Magazine for several years, and she’s a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Erica Ruth lives in Milwaukee, WI.
Joey Grihalva | Milwaukee Jazz, Arcadia Publishing
When the iconic Jazz Estate was set to reopen in 2016, writer Joey Grihalva was tasked with a straightforward article on Milwaukee jazz. This simple assignment took Grihalva on a jazz odyssey in his hometown. He soon learned about local luminaries Loretta Whyte, Jabbo Smith, Woody Herman, Bernie Young, Scat Johnson, Al Jarreau, Manty Ellis, Berkeley Fudge, Brian Lynch, and more. Drawing on interviews with musicians, club owners, scenesters, and journalists, along with images from personal collections, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, Grihalva opens a window into the beautiful, magical history of jazz in Milwaukee.
Ryan Castelaz w/ Kevin Miyazaki | The New Art of Coffee: From Morning Cup to Caffeine Cocktail, Universe Publishing
Ryan Castelaz is the owner and creative director of Discourse Coffee Workshop, which he opened in Door County, Wisconsin, in 2017, before moving the business to Milwaukee in 2021. His inventive drink making has been featured on the Emmy Award–winning PBS program Wisconsin Foodie and featured in print in Barista Magazine, Food & Wine, Plate Magazine, Daily Coffee News, and The Growler magazine, which called him “The Coffee Wizard of Sister Bay.”
Todd Lazarski is a freelance writer. He contributes regularly to The A.V. Club, Eater, and The Shepherd Express. His work has also appeared in Paste, TimeOut, and Offbeat New Orleans.
Willa C. Richards | The Comfort of Monsters, Harper
Willa C. Richards is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her first story, “Failure to Thrive,” was published by The Paris Review and won a PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize for Emerging Writers. She lives in New York City.
There are, of course, many more. Are you a Milwaukee author who is not on this list? We'd love to hear from you! Shoot us an email to tell us more about your work.