Last night I had the honor of hosting "Literary Twin Cities," an event marking the milestone anniversaries of three local non-profit presses (Milkweed Editions, Graywolf and Coffee House Press) as well as the Loft Literary Center.
It's an occasion worth celebrating: those presses I mentioned make up three of the top five independent literary presses in the nation. Minneapolis and the Twin Cities as a whole have on multiple instances been cited as literary hubs in the country. Open Book, the home to both Milkweed and The Loft, was the first cultural institution to move into a previously downtrodden neighborhood, one that has since become a cultural corridor featuring the Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center for Music and the Mill City Museum. As a center for the literary arts, it's the first of its kind.
Milkweed, Graywolf, Coffee House and The Loft are all just a part of a multi-layered dynamic literary scene that includes (but is not limited to) several fiercely independent bookstores (Macawbers, Magers and Quinn, Birch Bark Books and Common Good Books), SASE, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Rain Taxi Review and the Playwrights' Center. Then there's the number of writers and poets based here, as well as a strong network of public libraries.
Over the course of an hour we discussed not only what drew some publishers to move to the Twin Cities, but what it is about our local culture that has allowed the literary scene to thrive as well as it does. Is it the winters? The foundation support? Our level of education?
Coffee House Press founder Allan Kornblum said he was drawn to Minnesota by the "community spirit" (an early invitation to a Twin Cities book fair said "couches will be found for visiting publishers to sleep on" and proffered a celebratory dinner afterward).
Others agreed that community spirit, combined with strong education, philanthropic support and a cultural dedication to service all work together to create a dynamic literary scene.
But what about the future of publishing? All three literary presses are publishing e-books, which they say actually saves them money, and creates less "waste" (i.e. books that have no buyers). Their greatest concern is developping a generation of new young readers who enjoy not just pulp fiction, but literature.
Milkweed Editions is one of just two non-profit presses in the nation that publishes books for young readers, in part to provide an alternative to the mass-marketed fare that dominates bookstore shelves. CEO and Publisher Daniel Slager says that's in part to help develop young readers appetites for good quality literature.
What drives these non-profit presses is a desire to bring more diverse literature to the fore. The larger for-profit presses are motivated by the bottom line, which means they publish only those authors who have mass appeal. Non-profit presses nurture new voices, and translate foreign works we might never otherwise get to read.
Graywolf's Fiona McCrae said she's excited by some of the changes on the horizon of the publishing world. Already she's experienced how technology can help level the playing field between large and small presses. McCrae sees a new generation of young publishers getting in the business, and that's inspiring her to stay on top of her game.
Jocelyn Hale sees The Loft Literary Center as a bridge between the community and its non-profit presses. She said the mission of The Loft is to to support the development of writers, to foster a writing community, and to build an audience for literature. All of that in turn creates both a pool of potential authors for these presses, as well as informed and appreciative readership.
Powederhorn residents ready their sleds for Art Sled Rally 2009
The spirit of this weekend's line-up of events speaks to a real sense of community and good old fashioned fun. Read on, and be inspired to get out and about!
The 2010 Art Sled Rally gets underway at 2pm on Saturday in Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. The rally features sleds of all shapes and sizes, and varying degrees of aerodynamics. Look forward to a spectacle, and be prepared to jump out of the way!
Midtown Market in Minneapolis hosts its third annual Global Soup Cook Off from noon to 2pm on Saturday in honor of National Soup Month. Market vendors will prepare 10 different soups, and for $3 you can try them all and vote for your favorite (Proceeds go to Perspectives' Kids Café, a nutrition and self-esteem program providing mentoring and educational opportunities for high-risk and homeless youth living in the Twin Cities).
The Best of the Midwest Burlesk Festival gets underway Friday night at the Varsity Theater, and continues Saturday and Sunday at the Ritz Theater. The festival features burlesque performers from around the region, plus local favorites.
BodyCartography Project's piece "1/2 Life" investigates the survival of the body amidst a world of scientific research, data and control. "1/2 Life" features dance, video, music... and a physicist. Performances run Thursday through Saturday at the Southern Theater.
Stuart Pimsler, Judith Brin Ingber, a Hmong spoken word group and many others come together for People of the Book, a collection of stories told not just through prose but music, dance, and imagery. Thursday through Sunday at Sabes JCC in Minneapolis.
Off Leash Area presents "The Jury," based on one company member's experience serving as a juror on a murder trial. The piece combines movement and theater as it searches for the balance between social and individual responsibility. Janueary 28 - Feb 6 at The Red Eye in Minneapolis.
Montreal native Kid Koala uses pencils, paper, clay, glue, records and mixers to not just make music, but create a narrative. He performs his own brand of mixology - combining silent movies and swing music with hip hop and heavy guitars. You can see him Saturday at The Cedar.(1 Comments)