The folks at Minneapolis' Graywolf Press are finding themselves in a strange position these days--defending their commitment to diversity. Publisher Fiona McCrae recently announced the 2015 lineup for fiction--a strong list by any measure, including two books by perennial favorite Per Petterson, a new book by IMPAC Dublin award-winner Kevin Barry, and a title by Jeffery Renard Allen (whose previous book for Graywolf, "Song of the Shank," was highly praised). Half of the books are in translation -- from Serbian, from Russian, from Norwegian, from Spanish.
But there are no women. No women on the fiction list. Graywolf has four women on its 2015 poetry list, and four of the seven titles on the 2015 nonfiction list are by women. But readers on Facebook responded to the fiction list with surprise and anger.
"Whoa. So many dudes. Disappointing," wrote one person.
"I can't believe you even had the balls to publish the photo of these writers," said someone else. "And you're not doing them any favors, making us notice them for their gender and not their work. Time to start boycotting Graywolf Press. What a pity."
Many posters seemed to want very much to give Graywolf the benefit of the doubt, but they were having trouble. "This REALLY bums me out, especially as a huge fan of Graywolf, my hometown press!" wrote another. "ALL men? Really? Absolutely not acceptable in 2014 or ever. This picture makes me want to cry."
All of which seems almost ironic, as Graywolf has steadily built a reputation for publishing cutting-edge, serious work by men, women, people of color, and writers in translation. Its top four titles for 2014 were all written by women--the spectacular best-selling essay collection "The Empathy Exams," by Leslie Jamison; "On Immunity," by Eula Biss, a past winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Award (who will have another nonfiction book published by Graywolf in 2015), and collections of poetry by Claudia Rankine (also a best-seller) and Fanny Howe, which were both finalists for this year's National Book Award.
McCrae said in an interview today that the men on the fiction list are, mostly, not the mainstream: two African-American writers, a gay writer, several writers in translation. "I was very conscious of how international the list was," she said. "Under two percent of literary titles published in America are in translation. There are all kinds of balances."
Looking at the books seasonally rather than genre by genre shows much better gender balance, she noted. "When we are going through the exercise of balancing the list, we’re looking at the spring list or the fall list," not just the fiction list or the poetry list. "We don’t come out with all-male or all-female lists.
"We’re always balancing, and we’ve got grant considerations, translation grants, other grants. Books don’t show up in Noah’s Ark formation." Still, she said, it won't happen again.
McCrae also responded in a Facebook post yesterday. She wrote:
Graywolf Press is committed to publishing a wide spectrum of work by a diverse group of writers. In putting together our seasonal lists we are balancing many factors, and think about diversity in terms of gender, sexual orientation, geography, cultural background, and race. We also try to make room for new writers alongside ones who are further along in their careers. Our forthcoming fiction lists have failed to balance male with female writers, and our editors will be working hard to correct this imbalance for 2016 and beyond.
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of the Star Tribune's search for our third summer serial--Megan Marsnik, St. Paul resident, English teacher at Southwest HIgh, proud daughter of the Iron Range, and a lovely, strong, lyrical writer.
Her first novel (working title: "Underground") will be published in daily installments in the Star Tribune over the course of the summer of 2015. It will also be available as an e-book.
We received more than 100 one-chapter entries, many of which were excellent, and all of which were interesting. We narrowed it down to three finalists, which we read in their entirety. Megan's book is an historical novel, set on the Iron Range during the tumultuous strike of 1916, told through the perspective of a strong young woman who emigrated to the Range from Slovenia to live with her relatives.
"In my early adulthood, I spent three summers working as a researcher at the Iron Range Research Center at Ironworld in Chisholm," Megan said. "My job was to listen to the oral histories of women in politics and transcribe them to paper. These women led amazing lives."
Her research took 18 months and took her not just back to the Range, but to Croatia and Slovenia.
It is very exciting to launch her book into the world, beginning in May.
So you still haven't read "Ordinary Grace"? You weren't persuaded by the glowing reviews that describe St. Paul author William Kent Krueger's novel as a cross between a mystery and a coming-of-age tale, a book with quiet beauty and compelling characters?
The novel, narrated by a middle-aged man looking back on his 1960s childhood in southwestern Minnesota, centers on a missing person and a murder, but is also about one family and the members' relationships with each other.
Maybe a ton of national awards will sway you.
"Ordinary Grace" won the Edgar Award earlier this year, and this month it has won, in quick succession, the Barry Award, the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award. This is what's known in the mystery-writing world as the "full EBAM."
What's the difference, you ask? What's the difference between an Oscar and a Golden Globe?
The Barry Award is an annual award presented by the editorial staff of Deadly Pleasures for the best works published in the field of crime fiction.
The Anthony Awards are literary awards for mystery writers, named for Anthony Boucher, one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America. And the Macavity Award is, well, that's another literary award for mystery writers.
No wonder the man in the picture is smiling so big.
"Windigo Island," William Kent Krueger's latest novel, is a mystery, yes, but it is also a book that shines a bright light onto a serious problem: the sex trafficking of young Native American girls.
Krueger's best-selling novels always give a glimpse into Native culture. His protagonist, Cork O'Connor, is half Irish and half Indian, a man who walks in both worlds. But "Windigo Island" digs pretty deeply into the issues of poverty, racism and alcoholism, and its mystery centers on two missing Native girls.
Krueger will discuss the issue of sex trafficking on Nov. 19 at Black Bear Crossing cafe in Como Park. All proceeds from book sales that evening will be donated to Ain Dah Yung Center, a St. Paul organization that provides outreach and services to Native American families.
Krueger will be in conversation with Eileen Hudon and Christine Stark, both of whom have worked with the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition.
Here's the schedule for the evening:
5:30 p.m.: Welcome, food, and native drumming and solidary shawl project
6 p.m.: Krueger discussion.
7 p.m. Book reading and signing.
Black Bear Crossing is located at 1360 N. Lexington Parkway, in the pavilion of Como Park.
Someone leaked the National Book Award long list to Huffington Post yesterday evening, and the New York Times published it, and so I did too, on Facebook, but here's the list again, this time with links to the Star Tribune reviews, where available.
And what a strong and interesting list! A couple of story collections, a debut novel (written by a rock star), a novel set in the future, a novel set in the past, the last in a trilogy. And unlike the nonfiction list, which had only one woman, this one is evenly divided.
The short list will be released Oct. 15 and the winner will be announced in November. Long lists for poetry, young people's literature, and nonfiction were released earlier this week.
Rabih Alameddine, ‘An Unnecessary Woman,’ Grove Press
Molly Antopol, ‘The UnAmericans,’ W.W. Norton & Company (short stories)
John Darnielle, ‘Wolf in White Van,’ Farrar, Straus and Giroux (debut novel)
Anthony Doerr, ‘All the Light We Cannot See,’ Scribner
Phil Klay, ‘Redeployment,’ The Penguin Press
Emily St. John Mandel, ‘Station Eleven,’ Alfred A. Knopf
Elizabeth McCracken, ‘Thunderstruck & Other Stories,’ The Dial Press
Richard Powers, ‘Orfeo,’ W.W. Norton & Company
Marilynne Robinson, ‘Lila,’ Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Strib review runs in October)
Jane Smiley, ‘Some Luck,’ Alfred A. Knopf (Strib review runs in October)
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