By Leslie Lagerstrom
“It was teaching that led me to publishing,” explained Mary Taris. During Mary’s longtime teaching career, she taught several grade levels, and with every passing year, her frustration grew. The reason: “The school system’s persistent lack of books about Black people.”
Not one to be a bystander, Mary decided to leave teaching and help solve the problem. She launched Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Strive Publishing in 2018, and began publishing children’s books by Black authors.
“It has been a steep learning curve,” Mary said. “We have published 10 titles in five years, but we have done so thoughtfully, and with each book we have elevated voices that are typically not heard in the publishing industry. I like to say we are breaking barriers book by book.”
So how does one go from being a teacher to a book publisher?
Enter Dr. Artika Tyner, a civil rights attorney and well-known force for planting seeds of change in Minnesota and beyond. The founder of Planting People Growing Justice, an educator, speaker and published author of 35 books (the majority for children), Dr. Tyner’s work centers around teaching people to move beyond race to understand our shared humanity. While books have been a powerful tool for supporting her efforts, Dr. Tyner readily admits the success of her life’s work is dependent on literacy, which, she notes, is at a crisis point. “Only one-third of St. Paul kids can read, and 61 percent of families from low-income backgrounds do not have any books in their homes,” she said. “We have to get books into kids’ hands!”
Mary was introduced to Dr. Tyner as someone who could teach her about the publishing industry, and also as someone with whom she could potentially join forces. As their friendship has grown, so have their ideas. For the last several years, they have demonstrated the power of collaboration through initiatives that complement their shared goals, such as author events, community literacy campaigns and book giveaways.
Their cooperative spirit is also evident as they promote each other’s individual efforts, such as Strive’s annual story writing contest, which Mary launched in 2018. What started as a project to promote the inclusion of Black voices in children’s literature in Minnesota has now become a respected national contest. And then there is the RAW (Reading, Arithmetic and Writing) Library that Dr. Tyner created at Wilder Foundation’s Child Development Center, so that children ages 16 months to 5 years can have an actual library experience. Not only do kids have access to books while they are at the center, but they can also listen to them being read by local authors, and check them out to enjoy at home.
In 2023, as a next step in her quest to elevate Black voices, Mary launched two Strive Bookstore locations in Minneapolis. The first within Sistah Co-op on the skyway level of the IDS Center downtown. The second—her dedicated shop—is in the former Young-Quinlan Building on Nicollet Mall. Warm and welcoming, with an open layout and vibrant displays of books celebrating diversity and inclusion, it is more of a destination than a location. A prominent display at the front of the store is dedicated to Dr. Tyner’s books. Yet another example of collaborating for the greater good.
“I want people to experience the joy of literature, and to grow by taking in the knowledge of others,” Mary explained.
“I want to inspire young people to find their greatness,” said Dr. Tyner. “To do this, we need more people like Mary to move from the sidelines to center stage.”
About the Author
Leslie Lagerstrom is an advocate for transgender children and their families. She is a national public speaker on the subject, and her writing has appeared in several anthologies, in addition to being turned into a stage production.
About Publish Her
Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all. Publish Her specializes in print-on-demand books, workbooks, journals, magazines and more.