An era in literary publishing is coming to an end: Fiona McCrae, 63, will retire in June 2022 after 40 years in publishing—28 of them as publisher of Graywolf Press, the venerable Minneapolis house that regularly wins prestigious awards for its books.
Chicago Tribune columnist John Warner recently called McCrae “a living legend” and said Graywolf is “pound for pound, the greatest publisher in the world”—even though it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy when she took the helm in 1994.
McCrae, who grew up in the U.K., began her career on the editorial side of publishing in 1982 as an assistant at Faber & Faber in London. After making her way up the ranks to become senior editor, she emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, serving as director and senior editor in Faber’s office in Boston for three years. She was hired as Graywolf’s director and publisher in 1994, after the company posted a $200,000 deficit the year before and founder Scott Walker resigned. The implementation of cost cuts by Graywolf’s board, coupled with McCrae’s successful application for a Mellon grant, helped push the press onto solid financial ground. Its sales topped $1 million for the first time in 2008 following the breakout success of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, and it anticipates sales of $3.5 million this year.
Over the course of nearly five decades, Graywolf has emphasized poetry, literary fiction, short story collections, and memoir, and McCrae added literary nonfiction, essays, and more international offerings to its list. Much of the press’s success can be attributed to this strategic diversification, while it nurtured the careers of a stable of acclaimed authors, including Petterson, Anna Burns, Natalie Diaz, Percival Everett, Carmen Maria Machado, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Danez Smith, and Tracy K. Smith.
In announcing her plans to retire, McCrae called her time at Graywolf a “marvelous adventure,” adding, “I have loved it all: discovering new writers, seeing new covers come together, traveling to meet national and international colleagues, the successes large and small, the readings, the conferences and book fairs.”
Though McCrae is stepping away from Graywolf, she will remain engaged with the industry, serving on the boards of the National Book Foundation and the Anderson Center artist community in Red Wing, Minn.