Joan Drury, who wore several hats in the book world over the course of her life, including mystery writer, feminist publisher, and indie bookseller, died of kidney failure in the early hours of November 9 in Grand Marais, Minn. She was 75 and had suffered from poor health for the past few years.
Born in suburban Minneapolis in 1945 to a family that became wealthy through its garbage-hauling business, Drury was a well-known philanthropist in feminist and lesbian circles when she purchased Spinsters Ink from Sherry Thomas in 1992 and moved the small feminist press to Minneapolis from San Francisco. In 1995, Drury moved the press north to Duluth, where it was headquartered in the city's Building for Women for the next five years. This reporter worked at Spinsters as its marketing and publicity manager during that time and can attest that Drury was a force of nature, who contributed greatly to feminist publishing and bookselling during a time of great change throughout the industry. LAMBDA Literary Foundation awarded Drury an award for service in publishing in 1994.
Drury was also the sponsor of Norcroft: A Retreat for Women, a writer’s retreat on Minnesota’s North Shore. The retreat was closed several years ago.
In January 2001 Drury sold Spinsters Ink to Hovis Publishing in Denver. She also moved from Duluth to her cabin adjacent to Norcroft's grounds. A year after selling Spinsters Ink, Drury opened Drury Lane Books in the fishing village of Grand Marais in a cottage just steps away from Lake Superior. According to store manager Gwen Danfelt, Drury’s two children, Kelly Kager and Kevin Kager, intend to keep the store open.
Drury was also an award-winning author. She wrote the Tyler Jones series of three mystery novels about a feminist lesbian detective, as well as a stand-alone novel, Those Jordan Girls. Silent Words, her second novel, published in 1996, received a slew of awards and nominations.
Charlene Brown, the publisher of Clover Valley Press, which reissued Silent Words in 2009, wrote in an email, "Joan Drury was a book woman in every sense. She used her talents and resources to conduct a literary life that was truly admirable and all encompassing. How many human beings can say that they wrote award winning books, hosted an annual women’s writing retreat, owned a press that published the work of many talented writers, and then set up a bookstore that showcased readings and workshops aimed at heralding the art of women’s words? I was honored to republish Silent Words. I always thought of it as Joan’s love letter to the North Shore."
In a 2005 interview with PW, Drury explained her love for bookselling, saying, "I love being a writer. [It] is the core of who I am. But of business things—I really love being a bookseller. I get to buy as many books as I want without having to read them."
"My experience as an author and as a publisher has definitely made me a better bookseller," she added. "I think I'm more sympathetic to the needs of publishers and authors. After all, I've walked in their shoes."
Drury's daughter, Kelly Kager, told PW that a memorial service will be held in May or June, when the weather is warmer and hopefully, the pandemic will be under control, and "people can be outside, and maybe hugs will be allowed." Donations can be made to either the Grand Marais Violence Prevention Center or the Cook County (Minn.) Arrowhead Animal Rescue.