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A Short Guide to Literary Minneapolis

Early this week I took a trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul to visit the various literary organizations located there (which should explain why I haven’t posted much the past few days). For those who don’t know, MSP is a hotbed of nonprofit literary publishing and literary culture in general.

Reservations cast aside, both Minneapolis and St. Paul were in the top 5 of the recent Most Literate Cities list. And based on the few non-trade people I met in my hotel bar, I now totally believe in this study. The combination of literary publishers, good bookstores, literary events planning, and funding for literature (thanks Jim Sitter!) has created a real reading community.

Anyway, I greatly enjoyed my trip and learned a lot from all the wonderful people working at these various organizations. As a sort of public thank you, I thought I would highlight all of these presses and organizations here, especially since they’re all deserving of more general attention.

My first visit was with Eric Lorberer of Rain Taxi an extensive review publication available free of charge via 250 bookstores across the country, and by subscription for $15. A nonprofit entity at the heart of the MSP literary community, Rain Taxi also puts together the Twin Cities Book Festival, which usually takes place in mid-October. Rain Taxi reviews a wide-range of literature, and is in the vein of Bookforum. If you live in an area without a store that carries it, you should subscribe, but if you don’t subscribe, you can check out the online version free of charge.

Although they won’t be distributing our books (the University of Nebraska will—more on that TK), I did meet with Consortium mainly for fun. Consortium distributes an amazing list of presses from Archipelago to Zephyr (sorry, it was too obvious). After being sold to Perseus, they had to move offices and ended up in the Keg House Arts Building, an interesting space occupied by various arts related companies. (Every town needs a building like this.)

I spent a good deal of time at Graywolf Press, for obvious reasons: it’s a fantastic organization and its publisher, Fiona McCrae, is on our Executive Committee. This isn’t the appropriate post to explain my theory of first vs. second vs. third generation organizational structures, but I do want to say that I leaned a lot from looking at their structure and processes. Graywolf’s staff is incredibly strong, from the three editors—Katie Dublinski, Jeffrey Shotts, and Ethan Nosowsky (formerly of FSG and Grand Street, and based in NY, which is another interesting thing about Graywolf)—to the marketing/publicity team of Rolph Blythe, Mary Matze, and Erin Kottke. Graywolf has been around for more than 30 years, but I think Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses helped bring them to the attention of a whole new group of readers and may have marked the start of a new era of sorts (go translations!). In addition to Petterson, they publish a number of interesting writers, including Percival Everett. One book I’m really looking forward to is New European Poets, an anthology coming out this April.

Coffee House is still run by its founder Allan Cornblum, who started the press in 1984. According to the press’s website it is “dedicated to innovation in the craft of writing and preservation of the tradition of book arts. Coffee House produces books that present the dreams and ambitions of people who have been underrepresented in published literature, books that shape our national consciousness while strengthening a larger sense of community.” Chris Fischbach is the second-in-charge and a great editor responsible for Coffee House doing authors like Brian Evenson, Laird Hunt, and Gilbert Sorrentino.

As has been noted elsewhere, Milkweed Editions has recently undergone a series of changes. A couple years ago Daniel Slager was brought in from Harcourt as the editor-in-chief. (Like Ethan Nosowsky he was also affiliated with Grand Street, which is an interesting coincidence.) Just this past November, he was named Publisher and CEO, essentially taking over for Emilie Buchwald, Milkweed’s founding publisher. With a great staff that includes Ben Barnhart and Patrick Thomas on the editorial side, Emily Cook and Jessica Deutsch on the marketing/publicity side, and Hilary Reeves as managing editor and director of digital ventures, Milkweed is a very vibrant and exciting press that seems primed to expand greatly over the next few years. They do a wider range of books than the other Minnesota presses, including strong young reader and nonfiction lines, and right now, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck is getting a lot of attention.

One other thing worth noting is that Milkweed and The Loft Literary Center are both located in Open Book,, the first building in the United States devoted to the literary arts. Again, every mid-sized town should have a building for literature to go along with symphony spaces, theaters and the like.

This is a bit longer than I thought it would be, and hopefully all this info is redundant. But if you’re not already familiar with these presses and organizations, I highly recommend checking them out, buying their books, etc.



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