Interview with an Editor: Marisa Siegel from Curbstone Books


University and independent presses are often underappreciated for the work they do to diversify publishing, and to support authors and books that might not fit into the narrow margins of mainstream publishing. We’ve started a new feature to spotlight some of these presses and we’re thrilled to start locally with a university press that’s been around for over a hundred years, a vibrant staple of Chicago—and national—literature: Northwestern University Press (NUP). While NUP has several imprints, in this first installment we’re highlighting their imprint Curbstone Books

Curbstone Press was founded in 1975 by Judith Doyle and Alexander “Sandy” Taylor, and joined Northwestern University Press in 2008, becoming the Curbstone Books imprint. It publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, academic scholarly nonfiction, and translations. Northwestern University Press acquired Curbstone because of its historically important backlist, which includes a lot of luminaries such as Luis J. Rodríguez, Martín Espada, and Ana Castillo. 

My introduction to Curbstone Books was Yxta Maya Murray’s God Went Like That, a novel that offers a fictional recounting of a real-life nuclear reactor meltdown and accidents that occurred over nine years at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. It’s an extraordinary novel, highlighting stories of the people whose health and safety are affected by the damage done by this lab. The juxtaposition of the stories was incredibly moving and artful, despite a form—an EPA report—that could have resulted in stilted prose. I loved it so much that I’m working my way through other Curbstone titles, and am currently reading Jenny Irish’s fascinating poetry collection, Hatch, in which a character confronts her role in the human species dying—oh, and the character is an artificial womb.

I spoke via Zoom with Senior Acquisitions Editor, Marisa Siegel, to learn more about the press.

Siegel describes Curbstone Books’s focus as a blend of craft-forward literary writing with a focus on equity, justice, and intercultural conversation. When Siegel came aboard her initial interest in Curbstone was its politically-engaged writing, which paralleled her editorial interests at The Rumpus, where she was previously editor-in-chief, publisher, and owner. She noted, “I was pulled toward Curbstone because I saw that potential in it and because I think that we literary readers of brilliant smart writing need a lot of politically engaged writing right now, but that does not have to come at the expense of the craft of beautiful writing.”

Siegel remarked that another special aspect of NUP is how they grow their trade imprints, like Curbstone, while also maintaining their scholarly publications. Siegel works closely with Faith Wilson Stein, Senior Acquisitions Editor for their scholarly titles, to create cohesiveness between the two areas. 

The Day’s Hard Edge
By José Antonio Rodríguez
Will be published July 2024

One of several wonderful reasons The Day’s Hard Edge is a perfect fit for Curbstone is how it bridges the imprint’s prestigious history and the future directions we’re thrilled to be growing into.” – Marisa Siegel


Siegel came to Northwestern University Press in 2021, and she’s committed to exploring both the past and present of Curbstone, and is considering where it will go in the future. “What has changed about what we consider political? I think the more helpful buzzword from our mission statement is ‘intercultural conversation,’ and what it means to engage with politics and different cultural factions now that we didn’t think about then. I really think any nuanced look at life, within craft or beautiful writing with clear characterization, is going to have politically resonant themes. That is not to say that the fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction we’re publishing across our lists aren’t politically minded. But with our Curbstone titles, I think that is more at the front of what any given project is doing.” She also noted that in creating this space for political writing, the acquisitions team is conscious of never asking people to write from particular identity perspectives or exploit marginalized perspectives in certain ways. She’s constantly reevaluating her own approach and success, as well as examining what is happening in various other literary spaces on this topic. “As there’s been an increased necessary call for inclusivity and diversity in publishing, there has been a tendency for publishing at large to reduce authors to specific identity points, and to put people from marginalized groups into certain categories and assume, Oh, you’re gonna be a political writer. I want to think very carefully about that with Curbstone titles, and I think that writers should also be thinking thoughtfully about that.”

The Backwards Hand
By Matt Lee
Will be published May 2024

I often talk about how I’m especially eager, as an editor and as a reader, for hybrid writing that complicates notions of genre and pushes at limits of form; when Matt’s entirely unique manuscript landed in my inbox, I knew I’d found one of my first such projects for Curbstone.” – Marisa Siegel


One benefit to publishing with Northwestern University Press is how it prides itself on a  personal relationship with its writers. Siegel suggests writers interested in submitting to Curbstone Books should first research the press and its recent publications, and in their pitch specifically state why the imprint is particularly appealing to them and how their project fits within its mission. She also thinks it’s important for writers to understand the political aims of their project and “ to think about that marriage of politics, social justice and intercultural conversation, but foremost craft-forward literary writing.” 

See Also

The Curators
By Maggie Nye
Will be published June 2024

This stunningly self-assured debut novel jumped out to me early in my tenure at the Press as a strong fit for Curbstone because of its thoughtful engagement with an important U.S. historical event and its innovative employment of a collective narrator — and I was blown away by Maggie’s gorgeous writing.”   – Marisa Siegel


Siegel was interviewed about the benefits of publishing with university presses in the November/ December 2023 issue of Poets & Writers, which highlighted reasons why writers should consider this option when looking for a home for their work. I asked her about why readers should seek out trade books from university presses. Siegel says you can look to university presses for writing that is really wonderful and worth your time, but that was turned down at the big publishing houses because it might have been too experimental, too weird, too challenging of norms, and not guaranteed to make enough profit. University presses have different aims, which allows her as an editor to be more daring in the work that she takes on. She noted that the press’s nonprofit status allows it more flexibility than the more commercially focused Big Five. At Northwestern University Press, the bottom line isn’t purely based on profit. The books need to be profitable, of course, but it’s not as dollar driven as commercial presses, which especially attracted Siegel to this role and this press, along with more ability to take a chance on debut writers. Savvy readers can look to Northwestern University Press’s trade spaces to find the next big writers and more experimental, hybrid, challenging and unusual work. In addition to Maggie Nye’s The Curators, Matt Lee’s The Backwards Hand, and José Antonio Rodríguez’s The Hard Day’s Edge, which all come out this spring, Siegel also recommends readers watch for three books this fall: Miss Southeast: Essays by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers, Traveling Freely: Essays by Roberto Carlos Garcia, and Find Me When You’re Ready: Poems by Perry Janes.


Aside from all the amazing work coming out of Northwestern University Press, another thing that sets them apart is their rock star team. I had the pleasure of meeting Siegel, trade Senior Acquisitions editor, Megan Stielstra, Acquisitions Coordinator, Iván Pérez, Marketing Coordinator Madeline Schultz, Director of Sales and Marketing, Kristen Twardowski, and Publicist Charlotte Keathley in person. These are all incredibly kind and passionate individuals who care deeply about literature. At the helm is the highly-regarded Director Parneshia Jones. 

Siegel credits Parneshia Jones for rebuilding the press’s acquisitions from the ground up, and with a brand new energetic sales and marketing team, their future is bright. If, like me, you like to read fresh, innovative work, be sure to check out what Curbstone Books and Northwestern University Press is doing.

Rachel León

Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. She serves as Daily Editor for Chicago Review of Books and Fiction Editor for Arcturus. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, BOMB Magazine, The Millions, Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Ploughshares blog, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She shares her anxiety and wide-eyed optimism to encourage other writers in the newsletter Pub Cheerleaders, which you can find at:


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