Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Small Press Spotlight :: Graywolf Press

This Friday, April 30th at 7:00, the Downtown Writer's Center hosts a reading by Martha Collins. Her book BLUE FRONT was released by Graywolf Press in 2006 so it seemed appropriate to run this spotlight on her publisher!

Calling Graywolf "small" might seem sort of silly; however, you'll find in this Q&A orchestrated by the DWC's Tammy Danielewicz that it's that independent spirit that fuels them.


Graywolf Press is an independent, non-profit publisher located in Minneapolis, MN. Graywolf publishes between 20 and 30 books per year, including the recipient of the Emily Dickinson First Book Award, given to an American Poet over the age of 50 who has yet to publish a first book of poetry, and the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize winner. Graywolf writers have been among finalists and winners of a staggering number of prestigious literary awards. After thirty-five years, Graywolf continues to seek out the creative and adventurous authors of important and overlooked books.

The following questions were answered collaboratively by Katie Dublinski (Managing and Editorial Director), Marisa Atkinson (Marketing Assistant), and Steve Woodward (Editorial Assistant).

Tell me about the history of Graywolf Press. Who was it started by? Where and when did it start?

The following are a few key highlights in Graywolf’s history. A more complete history is available in full of the Graywolf website (www.graywolfpress.org).

Graywolf Press was founded by Scott Walker in Port Townsend, Washington in 1974. He started by working out of a space provided by Copper Canyon Press before moving to a shop of his own (a small outbuilding in Scott’s backyard) that Scott affectionately called the “print shack.” At this time, each book was hand-set and hand-printed on treadle-operated machines. The first full-length poetry book that Scott published in this way was Instructions to the Double by Tess Gallagher, who is still publishing with Graywolf. Tess’s most recent collection of short stories was published in 2009.

Graywolf was incorporated as a 501©3 nonprofit in 1984 and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1985, thanks to generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and other local philanthropic organizations. In 1994, Scott Walker resigned and Graywolf was run by board president Page Cowles until October of 1994, when Fiona McCrae was named as the new director. In 2002, Graywolf moved its distribution to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, a prestigious New York publisher. In September 2009 we moved our office to the Traffic Zone Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What was the original objective of the press? How has that objective changed or evolved with the growth of the press?

Graywolf started out as a poetry-only press that produced short-run, limited edition work. Now that original intention—to get poetry that mattered out in the world—has expanded to include fiction and nonfiction, in addition to poetry. And the scale has changed dramatically, so that Graywolf books are available nationally, to many readers, rather than just a limited number of readers in the Pacific Northwest region where Graywolf was founded.

To what do you attribute the growth of the press? Was the growth planned or intentional, or did it happen more organically?

It’s really a combination of a number of things. As Graywolf and its books gained more and more attention, a similar initiative on the part of Scott Walker to continue getting important and overlooked books out into the world helped push Graywolf to grow. The move to St. Paul from Port Townsend was part of a well thought out plan that not only allowed Graywolf to take advantage of a change in federal law that allowed publishing companies to be classified as nonprofit organizations, but also helped Graywolf gain the support of the larger Twin Cities donor base. Since the beginning, the Minnesota funding community, particularly the foundations here, encouraged the move and welcomed the press as part of the nonprofit, literary community. In turn this support has helped Graywolf stay financially solvent and has enabled Graywolf to become the nationally recognized publisher of books that win major awards and capture critical attention.

What is Graywolf able to offer to authors as a mid-size press that other publishers (both smaller and larger) can not?

Graywolf is in a great position as a “mid-size” house. We have a national and international reputation for our outstanding literature, have won several major literary awards in the last few years, and are starting to gain a more mainstream visibility. That said, having a smaller list means that we provide a more personal, hands-on experience for our authors that a larger house with hundreds of books might not be able to provide. We might not be able to complete with some of the larger houses in terms of marketing budgets, for example, but we do have more time to spend pitching books to media, setting up events for our authors, etc.

Advice for someone interested in submitting to Graywolf?

For advice for your readers interested in submitting to our press, I would direct them to carefully read our complete submission guidelines, which are available on our website (http://www.graywolfpress.org). These guidelines should have all of the information they need and should answer all of their questions.

It might be interesting to note that Graywolf has a huge social media network online. No matter what your readers’ favorite social media outlet, Graywolf most likely has presence there:


And we’ve also just started a Graywolf Press Goodreads group at Goodreads.com, where we’ll host the first-ever Graywolf Press Book Club in April. To join the group, visit: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/31817.Graywolf_Press (Sorry, no easy custom URL for this one!)

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