At a time like this—with the economy floundering and cultural critics gleefully proclaiming the end of the Guttenberg era—one would not expect to find a small, middle-aged literary press flexing its muscles. But expectations be damned, the 35 year-old Minneapolis-based Graywolf Press has recently piled up a series of accomplishments, both literary and commercial, that would make a Knopf or a Houghton Mifflin proud.
The most obvious place to date the beginning of Graywolf’s renaissance is the publication in 2007 of Per Petterson’s novel Out Stealing Horses. Translated from the Norwegian, the book sold 230,000 copies, won the prestigious IMPAC Dublin literary award (often called the “mini-Nobel”) and was selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2007. The success of Out Stealing Horses gave Graywolf the cachet and capital to go head-to-head with major houses in bidding for new work, which it has done to great success. In the last six months, Graywolf books and authors have won a raft of major literary prizes. For example:
- In October 2008, fiction writer Benjamin Percy was awarded the Whiting Writers Award
- In November, poet Katie Ford won the Lannan Literary Fellowship
- In January, poet Elizabeth Alexander gave President Obama’s inagural poem “Praise Song for the Day”
- In February, poet Matthea Harvey won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
- In March, fiction writer Salvatore Scibona’s novel The End won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award (The End was also a finalist for the National Book Award)
- In March, poet Lind Gregg’s book All of It Singing won the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award
The success of Graywolf is not just a good news story in a bad news cycle. It is a reminder that literary fiction and poetry are very much alive and kicking. It is a validation of Graywolf’s small-batch editorial philosophy, “introducing and promoting the most exciting and creative writers of our times,” with the aim of “keep[ing] fine literature off the extinction list.” They publish only twenty-seven books a year, but all twenty-seven are distinctive works of the highest quality.