The Twin Cities’ three literary nonprofit presses – Graywolf, Milkweed Editions, and Coffee House – are celebrating their successes this fall, with all three announcing record sales; one also threw itself a birthday party that drew some of the country's most acclaimed authors to Minneapolis to mingle with the region's literary-minded philanthropists and other book lovers.
Spotlighting its stable of critically-acclaimed authors, Graywolf held a literary star-studded 45th anniversary gala in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District last Thursday evening featuring Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, and Danez Smith, who all spoke glowingly of Graywolf’s accomplishments and its dedicated staff. During the event, which drew about 250 people, Trish Anderson, chair of Graywolf’s board of directors, announced that the press is conducting a fundraising campaign to raise $3 million to further invest in its editorial program and audience development, as well as in its infrastructure.
The press is thriving, with a 49% increase in sales between 2014 and 2015. While sales were flat in 2016, they rose 18% in 2017 and another 12% in 2018.
The funds being solicited through the New Chapter campaign “will enable Graywolf to publish singular writers, expand its commitment to inclusivity, engage its readers, stimulate conversations, and strengthen its operations for the next five to seven years,” Anderson said, noting that Graywolf also is celebrating this year the 25th anniversary of Fiona McCrae as director and publisher.
As of Thursday evening, $2.4 million has been raised in the New Chapter campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in 2021.
For its part, Milkweed reports that it has experienced 50% growth since 2013. “It’s double-digit, year-over-year growth in sales each of the last four years. This year [ending on December 31] will be the fifth,” Milkweed publisher and CEO Daniel Slager said, disclosing that much of the spike in sales is due to a mix of frontlist and backlist, particularly Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which has sold 350,000 copies in all formats.
“It’s been our bestselling title each of the past five years,” Slager added, noting that books like Braiding Sweetgrass that ask readers to "change the way we live in the world are becoming more mainstream."
In response to “trying to keep up with our books doing so well,” Slager said, Milkweed’s staff has expanded from six full and part-time employees to 18, including the employees at Milkweed’s bookstore inside Open Book, the building complex on the edge of downtown Minneapolis that houses literary organizations.
Across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis, Coffee House Press’s publisher, Chris Fischbach, announced last week that Coffee House had its best sales ever in fiscal year 2019, which ended on June 30. Coffee House sales were up 6% from the previous fiscal year, and up 48% from 2016.
Fishbach attributes the spike in sales since 2016 to such critically-acclaimed recent backlist as Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (2017), about the U.S.-Mexico border crisis, and Indecency (2018), a collection of poems by Justin Phillip Reed that won a National Book Award, as well as an evergreen backlist title, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (2009) by Kao Kalia Yang.
With such hot frontlist titles as Reinhardt’s Garden by Mark Haber, a Houston indie bookseller, and When Death Takes Something You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman, which is longlisted for a National Book Award, Fischbach expects the upward sales trend to continue.
“We have a great list coming up,” he said, adding in a shout out to his CHP colleagues, “And, for the past couple years, we’ve had a staff that really clicks. I'm proud of how dedicated, positive, talented, and hardworking this team is.”