Rain Taxi kicked off its 20th-anniversary celebrations in March with a full slate of activities during the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, held in Minneapolis this past spring. The Twin Cities literary nonprofit will conclude this milestone year with several special events in November, culminating with a reading by George Saunders on December 8 at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Nationally, Rain Taxi is best known for Rain Taxi Review of Books, a literary quarterly with a circulation of 17,000 that reviews books by small and literary presses. But Rain Taxi is much more than simply a magazine. In addition to the quarterly, Rain Taxi publishes wholly different content on its website and maintains a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout the Twin Cities metro area.
Rain Taxi has also published a few poetry chapbooks, run a popular reading series in the Twin Cities since 1998, and for the past 15 years sponsored the Twin Cities Book Festival, which debuted on a local university campus in 2000 with about 1,500 attendees. Held since the fall of 2012 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, this year’s festival is scheduled to take place on October 17, with more than 50 authors in attendance and 120 exhibitors. The free event is expected to draw 7,000 attendees.
“It’s a healthy mix of honored guests from all over the country and the world, and the writers who live here,” Eric Lorberer, editor-in-chief, said of the festival, which features such authors as Laila Lalami, Faith Sullivan, and Joy Williams. One of this year’s featured authors, Spike Carlsen, who is also a woodworker, will build a writing studio on site, with attendees encouraged to assist him. The finished writing studio will be raffled off that day.
Three local bookstores will handle book sales: Red Balloon will sell children’s books, Common Good will sell regional titles, and Magers & Quinn will sell books by the featured authors. A single bookstore used to handle the sales at the festival, Lorberer noted, but when Rain Taxi divided up the book sales among different vendors several years ago, “sales went up for everyone.”
The festival, Lorberer estimated, accounts for about 25% of Rain Taxi’s $225,000 annual budget. The organization receives funding from three streams: almost 50% of its funding comes from private foundations and the government; just over 25% comes from individual gifts; and earned income from advertising sales and subscriptions accounts for 25% of its revenues.
“The budget is fairly small, considering all the things we do,” Lorberer acknowledged, “but we’re very driven, very passionate, and very committed to our work. That has helped us stay in business.” Besides Lorberer, Kelly Everding handles graphic design and business operations and there is a part-time administrative assistant. Rain Taxi’s board of directors is a working board, and its 10 members volunteer their time and expertise to Rain Taxi’s activities.
Noting that Rain Taxi’s mission has always been to connect literature with audiences, Lorberer explained that in recent years, the organization has tried to tap into the zeitgeist by participating in “hands-on, fun, spontaneous” high-visibility projects, as well as continuing to focus on publishing book reviews. “Our core principle is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago,” Lorberer said. “We just want to spread the news about interesting books and interesting writers.”