It wasn’t just Minneapolis’s literary publishing community that rolled out the red carpet for more than 12,000 writers and others who descended upon the Mill City this past week during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference. The entire region welcomed the visitors, who, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in a front-page story last Sunday, are estimated to be pouring $28 million into the local economy. Even the mayor of Minneapolis issued a personal welcome to AWP attendees who are bringing such an infusion of cash and culture into her city.
As many AWP attendees can attest, it all began on Wednesday, when Rain Taxi, which printed out 6,000 extra issues of its current issue, handed copies out at two booths in the baggage claim area at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, plus gave attendees advice on how to get to their hotels. Rain Taxi also celebrated its 20th anniversary during AWP.
On Thursday evening, Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges appeared at the AWP keynote address by Karen Russell, introducing the head of Concordia University in Moorhead, Minn. who in turn introduced Russell. After giving shout-outs to local literary powerhouses Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press, and Milkweed Editions, and declining to identify her favorite local author for fear, she claimed, of alienating all the others, Hodges expressed her wish that poetry would play a role in her administration and recited a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, the Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, and who died late last month.
“Professionally, I wanted to welcome the conference because it is a big, big deal for the city of Minneapolis to have that many people from around the country and around the world come and see how great Minneapolis is,” Hodges told PW via email. “Personally, I am someone who never stopped reading YA novels and who reads poetry every morning and every evening before bed.”
And, she added, “I wanted to do the introduction to have a reason to be there and geek out with all those amazing, talented people.”
“It’s so nice to meet an enlightened mayor who loves poetry,” David Fenza, AWP’s executive director told PW, noting that in the past 28 years he has worked for AWP, mayors have occasionally welcomed AWP to their cities, but “none as eloquently as Betsy.”
That same evening, at Open Book, the building dedicated to the literary arts in downtown Minneapolis, a group of local presses and literary organizations as well as Riverhead Books hosted an "Awesome Party” that drew in approximately 1,000 people from the local and the national publishing communities, plus the NEA’s literary director, Amy Stolls, who was in town for AWP.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity for us to celebrate an unbelievable building,” Daniel Slager, Milkweed’s publisher said. “It’s an asset not just to Minneapolis and to Minnesota, but to the region. And this week, we’ve had people from all over the world come to Open Book. There is no place like it.”
Slager noted that, not only does AWP being in town present an opportunity to celebrate Open Book’s 15th anniversary, but that the three founding partners housed inside Open Book are also celebrating anniversaries: The Loft literary center is 40 years old, Milkweed is 35 years old, and the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts is 25 years old.
Other local publishers took the opportunity of AWP taking place in Minneapolis for the first time to highlight their own anniversaries: the University of Minnesota Press, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, sponsored a panel of three authors with editor Erik Anderson, and Milkweed sponsored a panel featuring its authors and Slager. Holy Cow Press, a small press located in Duluth, Minn., participated in AWP programming as well, with a quartet of authors paying tribute to publisher Jim Perlman for nearly four decades of publishing poetry collections and anthologies. This is the first time in 25 years that Perlman has attended AWP and exhibited at the book fair there.
Magers & Quinn, a Minneapolis bookstore, operated not one but two pop-up bookstores inside the convention center; author events also were held each evening of the conference at the store itself, in Minneapolis’ Uptown area. Bookseller Amy Metcalf reported that to her surprise, the pop-up bookstores’ bestseller was H Is for Hawk.
“We did not expect people to ask for a non-AWP-related book,” she said, and booksellers had to return to the store in Uptown several times to replenish stock. Sales at the pop-ups have increased each day of the conference, she added.
Even on the other side of the Mississippi River, in St. Paul, the indie bookstores there held author events every evening, including SubText’s Friday evening’s “happy hour reading” featuring PW’s former co-editorial director, Michael Coffey (The Business of Naming Things, Bellevue Literary Press). And the Friends of the St. Paul Library, which sponsors the Minnesota Book Awards, held an evening of literature and music at St. Paul’s Bedlam club featuring readings by four of last year’s award winners, followed by original music inspired by their books.
Talking Volumes, the regional book club co-sponsored by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Loft, and Minnesota Public Radio for the past 15 years, brought this year’s AWP to the rest of the state and beyond: A special Talking Volumes program aired live Friday afternoon on MPR with host Kerri Miller in conversation with authors Charles Baxter and Louise Erdrich, who both live in Minneapolis. Erdrich also owns Birchbark Books there. And on Saturday evening the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association is hosting a party, with 20 authors will be on hand to sign books.
"We decided to host this event during AWP to take advantage of the huge diversity of authors in town," MIBA's executive director Carrie Obry told PW. "As suspected, our reception drew in a number of publishers we hadn't worked with before, like Sarabande and Feminist Press. Also, we are hosting this gathering because booksellers often ask for more opportunities to just be together socially. The backdrop of this neat collection of authors is the perfect opportunity to do just that."
“We love Minneapolis,” AWP’s Fenza said, disclosing that there are tentative plans to return to Minneapolis in 2020, “if all goes well” regarding negotiations with hotels, the convention center, and of course, especially if Hodges is still mayor. AWP16 will travel to Los Angeles next year, with Graywolf author Claudia Rankine announced earlier this week as AWP16 keynote speaker.
An earlier version of this story stated that Concordia College is in St. Paul. The College, an AWP premier sponsor, is in Moorhead, Minn.