Modest literary journal wins major award

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL
  • Updated: January 8, 2011 - 3:23 PM

Grey Sparrow, published in St. Paul, named best new literary journal of the year.

In its inaugural issue, which came out just a year ago, the nonprofit literary quarterly Grey Sparrow published a poem by Minnesota's most famous poet, Robert Bly, one by renowned poet Thomas R. Smith and one by Andrew Kaufman, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize. In its second issue, you could find Ted Kooser. In its third, three poems by Maxine Kumin, tucked around short stories, flash fiction and photography. All rather astounding for an unknown journal that is published out of a modest St. Paul house by a woman who used to edit a retail parts catalog for Control Data.

Diane Smith, 57, started the journal in order to bring literature to children and young adults, but the audience that found Grey Sparrow is primarily adults. "I decided that poetry was languishing in the United States," she said. "I decided I really wanted to promote poetry from the modern perspective." A chance meeting with Bly at a party some years ago emboldened her enough to call him. "He was very gracious and said he would share a poem with us. He's going to also share another one in the spring."

Smith's little journal, which runs to fewer than 50 pages and sells for $8.95 (and is online at www.greysparrowpress.net), was honored on Saturday with a national award when it was named best new literary journal by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. The award was announced during the meeting of the Modern Language Association in Los Angeles. Previous winners include the Gettysburg Review, Hedgehog Review and Narrative.

Smith plans a party next fall at Open Book in Minneapolis, to celebrate the journal and to launch "Both Sides of the Niger," a collection by Andrew Kaufman, which Grey Sparrow will publish.

The inspiration for the journal came from her mother, who used to read aloud to her. The title came from the view outside Smith's window. "The sparrow is a modest little bird that isn't full of flash and dazzle," she said. "It never crowds our feeder or chases anyone off. Just a little bird, nondescript, doesn't stand out, but is so welcome every day."

Also ...

•TV personality Joan Steffend, a former news anchor at KARE-11 and host of HGTV's "Decorating Sense," will read and autograph books at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bookcase in Wayzata. Steffend is the author of " ... and She Sparkled," an inspirational book published by Tristan Publishing.

•The Midwest Independent Publishers Association will explore the topic "What to Expect When You Are Expecting ... a Book." A publisher, author and marketing director will share experiences of their book projects. The meeting is free and open to the public. It begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Joule meeting space on the second floor of 1200 Washington Av. S., Mpls.

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