Joan Drury once described the convergence of feminism and words as "nirvana."
"That's the perfect place for me to be, because it's my two largest passions in the world," she said in a 1997 interview with Northern Lights, a series on Minnesota's literary arts community.
The 75-year-old writer, publisher, bookseller, philanthropist and feminist died Nov. 9 — in time to see the first woman elected as vice president. "It was the best news at a bad time," said daughter Kelly Kager. "She was lucid enough to clench her fist and say, 'Yes!' "
Drury stamped every check with the words "lesbian money." She professed feminism as her religion. She was unapologetic, opinionated and "totally lacked fear," said Claire Kirch, a former employee of Drury's.
"She was a force of nature," Kirch said. "She pushed people to act and make things happen to their fullest potential. I've never met anyone who was that charismatic and so strong in making changes and getting things done."
Drury wrote six books. Four were published, including the Tyler Jones mystery series, which featured a lesbian detective. She also wrote her own obituary, which Kager finalized as editor, a role she carried throughout her mother's literary career.
Kager said her mother had struggled with anemia and had other underlying health conditions. But Drury was still driving herself around the North Shore days before she checked into the emergency room in Grand Marais. There, Kager read her Nicola Upson's "Sorry for the Dead," a mystery. "Mom would never rest easy without a book nearby," she said.
As publisher and chief editor of one of the country's oldest feminist publishing companies, Spinsters Ink, Drury published 40 books. She purchased Spinsters in 1992 and moved operations to Minneapolis and later to Duluth. After selling it in 2001, she opened Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais. A historic cottage was transformed into a bookstore that remains a reflection of Drury's life. She carefully selected everything, from the paint colors to books featuring local and regional authors, as well as a display of her favorite mystery books.
"Grand Marais is a destination, but the bookstore is, too," said manager Gwen Danfelt last week as loyal customers and friends dropped by the bookstore with flowers or called to express condolences.
Drury grew up in Richfield, married at 18 and had three children with her ex-husband before enrolling in her 30s at the University of Minnesota, where she majored in women's studies. With an inheritance from her family's garbage-hauling company fortune, she turned trash into treasure (literally) by co-founding Harmony Women's Fund and creating Norcroft: A Writing Retreat for Women.
Harmony, a foundation she ran with Marilyn Crawford, invested in more than 100 nonprofit women's organizations to fund feminist social change in Minnesota and create the National Lesbian Writers Awards. It also funded Norcroft, Drury's longtime dream, which paid for the residencies of more than 600 women over 14 years to write uninterrupted. On 10 acres of property next to her family's cabin in the Lutsen area, Drury created a literary haven for women to focus on storytelling.
Kager said hundreds of books were written in whole or in part at Norcroft. "She's had a tremendous and deep impact in making her world a better place. There's so many different ways to be an activist and she pretty much encompassed all of them."
Services for Drury will take place in late spring or early summer. In the meantime, Danfelt said, "The next time you read a good book, think about Joan and the power of words."