Writers, publishers gather to celebrate Twin Cities literary scene

Betsy Graca

Minneapolis is called the “Little Apple” for a reason.

Similar to New York, the Twin Cities has a thriving music, arts and theater scene, but what many people don’t know about is the strong presence of a literary community.

On Saturday, nearly 5,000 local writers and readers got the chance to strengthen that presence at the Twin Cities Book Festival.

Ninety-nine exhibitors displayed their works and established a newfound closeness within the literary community.

The University plays a strong role in the literary community as well. The University of Minnesota Press publishes about 100 works a year from local and international authors.

Book review magazine Rain Taxi hosted the event for the seventh year.

“This event is crucial because it makes the community a physical experience,” Stephen Healey, University graduate instructor and associate editor of Conduit literary magazine, said. “The literary community is often so virtual and here you get the rare experience to actually shake people’s hands.”

Literature has been moving from the pages to the screen, but general readership has not been damaged.

Healey said there has been a decline in literary reading, but technology is offering other possibilities, including online journals.

“The market is shifting, there are a lot more Internet sales,” University of Minnesota Press sales manager Bo Sherman said. “But people are definitely still reading.”

Event organizer Eric Lorberer said technology has changed people’s sense of community, but the reason for the event is to reinforce and celebrate the diversity that exists in the local literary world.

Christopher Fischbach, senior editor of nonprofit publisher Coffee House Press said his company focuses on only six novels per year that spotlight multicultural and experimental works.

In addition to the technological changes, Healey said “people don’t realize how vibrant the literary publishing is in the Twin Cities.”

There is generous state and private funding for publishers, Healy said.

Wilson Peden, assistant nonfiction editor for the University’s graduate literary journal, Dislocate, said Minneapolis is a good location for aspiring writers.

“Minneapolis does have several publishing options, constant readings and available jobs for writers,” Peden said.

Dislocate editor Michelle Livingston said the literary community has found closeness because of the Loft, a downtown Minneapolis literary center established in 1974.

Dara Syrkin, member services coordinator for the Loft, said the center provides a physical place for writers to gather and take classes.

Syrkin said the membership of The Loft has grown exponentially and now has introduced “The Loft Around Town” program to spread writing classes to the suburbs.

“There is a great depth and breadth of the numbers of communities that have taken part in the writing experience in the Twin Cities,” Syrkin said. “People need to write.”