3 November 08 | Chad W. Post

Today’s posts are all Minnesota related . . . Using Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia as the entryway, the City Paper has a great feature on Graywolf Press, one of the largest—and most successful—nonprofit presses in the country. The press is directed by Fiona McCrae, who is nicely featured in the article, and who happens to be on Open Letter’s executive committee:

Graywolf, which has about 10 full-time employees, including four in-house editors, was even further off the map when it was founded in 1974 by Washington state idealists Scott Walker and Kathleen Foster. Just south of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, in the microscopic burg of Irondale, they constructed a small edifice surrounded by raspberries that they called the “print shack.” They couldn’t have done it without the assistance of the guy next door who raised chickens. [. . .]

Attempting to ease its transition from a hand printer of limited-edition books into a full-on trade publisher, Graywolf came to the Twin Cities in 1984 on the suggestion of a few advisors, who correctly predicted that foundation money would be easier to come by here. [Ed. Note: Minneapolis is the only city in the country with a well-developed base of foundation funding for nonprofit publishing. Which is why so many nonprofit publishers—like Coffee House and Milkweed and Graywolf—have made Minneapolis their home.] Ten years later Walker relinquished his duties to McCrae, a director at a major publishing house who was born in Kenya and grew up just north of London. She had a background that couldn’t have been more different from that of Graywolf’s freewheeling founders, having risen through the ranks at Faber & Faber headquarters in London. “I [first] worked for this grand old chairman called Charles Monteith. He had found Lord of the Flies in the slush pile. He was really an old-fashioned British publisher. Beckett was his author, and he’d get little postcards from him in the mail.” In the mid-‘80s she worked under editor Robert McCrum, whose authors included Milan Kundera, Peter Carey, and—in her first introduction to Minnesota—Garrison Keillor. “I thought it was much more fictional than it turned out to be,” she says of his work. “I had no idea until I moved up here.”

What I like best about this piece—which does a good job of profiling Graywolf and their success—are the numerous baseball references comparing Graywolf and the Twins:

When Graywolf published the book in April of last year, the transaction turned out to be the literary equivalent of the Red Sox snatching David Ortiz from the Twins for $1.25 million in 2003. [. . .]

Like the Minnesota Twins, another small-market business that is up against better-funded competition, Graywolf must rely on solid fundamentals and player loyalty to succeed.

But whereas the Twins lost Johan Santana to a higher bidder, Graywolf won’t be losing its heavyweights anytime soon. [. . .] In fact, big-name free agents are defecting to Graywolf.


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