This Tuesday was the grand opening of Milkweed Edition’s bookstore on South Washington Street in downtown Minneapolis. Located on the ground floor of the Open Book building—the nation’s largest literary center—it is a wonderful complement to the building’s existing tenants, the Loft Literary Center, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
We got a chance to chat with Milkweed Edition’s publicist Joanna Demkiewicz about the opening of the store and the joys of working in the publishing field. Also, make sure to check out our Instagram next week as Milkweed’s employees take over and offer book recommendations.
Tell us a little bit about Milkweed.
Milkweed Editions is a nonprofit independent publisher based in Minneapolis; fun fact — of the three independent presses based in Minneapolis (us, Coffee House and Graywolf), we are the only press that was originally founded here. Milkweed was co-founded in 1980 by Emilie Buchwald and R.W. Scholes, originally as a literary journal. We now publish between eighteen and twenty books a year in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.
As an independent book publisher, how do you differentiate yourselves from larger publishing houses with deeper pockets?
We don’t publish books specifically to turn a profit. We publish books to challenge and to engage with a variety of readers. We publish what some larger presses deem “risky:” poetry, translation, debuts, collections of essays and stories.
Describe how Milkweed decided to open a physical retail space in a market dominated by online sales, with big box bookstores closing all over the country?
We are lucky enough to be part of the trio that co-founded Open Book in 2001 (us, the Loft Literary Center, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts), and to have our offices and warehouse in the largest literary center in the United States. 175,000 people walked through Open Book’s doors last year, and we can only imagine that number will continue to increase, as apartment buildings and housing pops up throughout the neighborhood. We are also lucky enough to have a coffee shop/bar on the first floor of the building, and an incredible event space on the second floor (the Target Auditorium, which fits up to 200 people). That formula — coffee shop, event space, warehouse or space for storing books — is one element to running a successful store. Another element is having an engaged and interested community, and our neighborhood/area has flourished in the past seven years. We have the Guthrie nearby and the Mill City Museum, plus a myriad of lovely restaurants. This neighborhood — in an incredibly literary and artistic city — deserves a bookshop.
(There’s a lot of information about why we decided to open a store on our Kickstarter page)
Any fun facts about the book making process?
The book-making process is quite lengthy and involves a lot of people! If you think about our “departments” — editorial, marketing, and development — every single person is somehow involved. The back wall of the bookstore is a felt wall that will showcase elements of the book-making process; for example, how a cover comes to be. I’m excited to offer visual context to what makes books possible for folks who are perusing books.
What are upcoming titles or authors from Milkweed this year we should be excited about?
We have a lot to be excited about this fall, and I’m especially excited that we had Deni Ellis Béchard, author of the forthcoming Into the Sun, at our bookstore opening party on September 20. Béchard’s new novel explores reinvention and frontiers via four compelling expatriates and one local living and working in Kabul, Afghanistan ten years after 9/11. Because of Béchard’s reporting experience — he’s reported from Afghanistan, the Congo, Rwanda, and elsewhere — the novel is stunningly acute, and the book opens with a mysterious car bombing. The rest unfolds from there, and Béchard unravels each character’s narrative with grit and grace.