Beacon Press: History and Mission
Login Cart

History & Mission

Beacon Press® is an independent publisher of serious non-fiction. Our books often change the way readers think about fundamental issues; they promote such values as freedom of speech and thought; diversity, religious pluralism, and anti-racism; and respect for diversity in all areas of life.

Our History

Founded in 1854, Beacon has published many ground-breaking classics, including James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, Jean Baker Miller's Toward a New Psychology of Women, and Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology. In 1971, Beacon printed the Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papers in five volumes. This groundbreaking achievement marked the first time those papers had appeared in book form. Beacon is also the publisher of Marian Wright Edelman's best-selling book, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, and Cornel West's acclaimed Race Matters. Recent publications include Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, Rashid Khalidi's Resurrecting Empire, and titles by Pulitzer-prize winning poet Mary Oliver.

For more on our history, please consult A Brief History of Beacon Press, published on the occasion of our 150th anniversary.

Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers: On October 22, 2006, Beacon Press commemorated the 35th anniversary of publication of The Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papers—the first full edition of the top secret Defense Department studies that exposed decades of U.S. decisionmaking in Vietnam. On June 24, 2007, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman moderated a panel at General Assembly with Dan Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel and Former UUA President Bob West on the role of Beacon Press in publishing the Pentagon Papers. Click here for more information.

Beacon Today

Our current publishing program emphasizes religion, history, current affairs, political science, gay/lesbian/gender studies, education, African-American studies, women's studies, child and family issues and nature and the environment. In 1993 Beacon was voted “Trade Publisher of the Year” by the Literary Market Place . In addition, Beacon and its authors have received National Book Awards, the American Book Award, the Christopher Award, the National Writers Union Golden Pen Award, the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Book Publication, and the PEN New England L.L. Winship Award and Friend to Writers Award, and has been named the New England Publisher of the Year.

In the words of Dana Frank, Professor of History Emerita at UC, Santa Cruz, “Beacon Press continues to pioneer in publishing works that are central to an embracing vision of the American people and our future together. Their books are always beautifully produced, of the highest literary and artistic quality and able to bridge the best of scholarship with popular accessibility.”

Beacon is an associate member of the Association of American University Presses. We are a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Beacon Press and the Martin Luther King Jr. Estate

On May 27, 2009, Beacon Press announced a new partnership with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. for a new publishing program, "The King Legacy." Beacon will print new editions of previously published King titles and compile Dr. King's writings, sermons, orations, lectures, and prayers into entirely new editions, including significant new introductions by leading scholars. This partnership brings together the legacy of one of the most important civil rights and social justice leaders in the world with one of the oldest and most respected independent publishing houses in America.

Articles about Beacon Press

Venerable Beacon Press Shines on Social Issues
Boston-based Beacon Press, a nonprofit independent book publisher founded in 1854 as the Press of the American Unitarian Association, has long been known as a house devoted to providing the public with thought-provoking, sometimes controversial, works focusing on social issues. Poetry has also long been a staple of the house, but more recently original fiction, through the Bluestreak series of literary works by women of all colors, has claimed a small but significant new niche. Read more.

Poetry Month Boosts Indie Favorite, Mary Oliver
For Tom Hallock, associate publisher of nonprofit Beacon Press in Boston, Mass., there's little doubt that together National Poetry Month and Book Sense's poetry list boost sales of serious works of poetry. While the 150-year-old house may be better known for hard-hitting titles on education, diversity and current affairs, it has long published some poetry, including Joan Murray's collection of Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times, which was compiled and published immediately after September 11. Read more.

150 Years: A Beacon of Good Publishing
From the Winter 2004 issue of The AAUP Exchange
In the course of 150 years, a lot of history can be made. From its earliest mission to publish and distribute books that would "explain and defend Unitarian thought and promote…'more reasonable' thinking," to the full flowering of its contemporary commitment to "publish intelligent, eloquent answers to the pressing questions of the day," Beacon Press has been making publishing and intellectual history. Read more (full article is available as a PDF).

Praise for Beacon Press

“Beacon Press is a long distance runner for truth and justice.” —Cornel West

“If we succeed in renewing the spirit of the American Constitution after the confusions of our day, it will be in considerable measure to the credit of the courageous efforts of the Unitarians and their Beacon Press.” —Albert Einstein

“I really cherish independent presses, and particularly Beacon, which has maintained its integrity for such a long time and has insisted on publishing books that it cared about without being constrained by profit. Beacon Press has shown special courage over the years. They have always simply done what they thought was important.” —Howard Zinn

“Beacon Press is a gem in a publishing world rendered increasingly impoverished by global corporatization. Remarkably, it steadfastly combines serious progressive content with inspired writing and beautiful design. In a world where market values have triumphed over most others, Beacon's moral vision is a treasure.” —Juliet Schor

“For the past 150 years, Beacon has been a home for readers seeking a more inclusive and innovative literary experience.” —Edwidge Danticat

“The Unitarians and Beacon Press have consistently shown the kind of civic courage that we must have for our country to survive as a democracy.” —Daniel Ellsberg

“Beacon Press is brilliant, fearless, wide-ranging, and a friend of democracy.”—Junot Díaz

“Beacon Press is truly a beacon, shining light on the past, spotlighting what matters in the present, and guiding us toward a better world. I am honored and humbled to be a part of the Beacon family.”—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

“Beacon Press is an American treasure. In its longtime commitment to cultivating the practices essential to building a healthy diverse democracy, it pushes America to live up to its noblest ideals.”—Eboo Patel

Our Mission

The mission of our publishing program is to affirm and promote these principles: the inherent worth and dignity of every person, especially historically marginalized people, economically disadvantaged people, BIPOC people, LGBTQQIA+ people, and people of all abilities, ethnic heritages, and gender identities; justice, equity, compassion and inclusivity in human relations; acceptance of one another, and of multiple perspectives, to better engage new audiences with progressive ideas; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the importance of scholarship and credible journalism to address misinformation and strengthen democratic citizenship; the right of conscience, the value of religious pluralism, and the use of the democratic process in society; the goal of world community, free from oppression, with peace and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web of all existence; especially in a world facing global climate change; the importance of free speech and a free press, and of literature and the arts, in democratic life.