STANDARDS' SIGNET OF EXCELLENCE
STANDARDS' SIGNET OF EXCELLENCE

BEST OF THE SMALL PRESS AWARD
FALL-WINTER 1998-1999:
GRAYWOLF PRESS


This issue, we are pleased to bring you reviews of a selection of works from Graywolf Press, a long-standing small literary publisher in Saint Paul, Minnesota. As we are focusing on "Pride" for this volume of STANDARDS, we chose a handful of offerings from the stalwart and meaty Graywolf catalog, and what we've discovered is bound to delight and please all types of readers.

Graywolf is a publishing house that takes risks enough to successfully keep the cutting edge alongside the merely innovative, and both these essential elements of literature take up residency at Graywolf among an eclectic mix of the idiosyncratic, the knobby, the testy, even the dull shine of first efforts that may or may not produce future brilliance. In short, for many authors, the Graywolf house is something of a home -- a sensibility not easy to find within the dreary mainstream publishing landscape in the U.S. these days.

"Cutting edge," for the educators and artists at STANDARDS, doesn't mean "obtuse" or merely "shocking." We do, for example, consider Fanny Howe's recent poetry collection One Crossed Out to be a formidable slice against the grain. If you're going to be shocked by this book, it will be because Howe persists in her gravely intuitive and fundamentally revelatory linguistic and psychological archeology. And that's saying a lot.

Somewhere between "cutting edge" and "innovative" is Elizabeth Searle's provocative first novel, A Four-Sided Bed. The publication of this book signals a charge into the mixed sensibilities surrounding sex and sensuality in the '90s, but this goes without the "politically correct" denoument for which many an editor might have pressed. Congratulations to Graywolf for taking a step out of the "norms" with this book.

Similarly, there is a taut attention to the evocative in Janet Kauffman's Places in the World a Woman Could Walk, part of the Graywolf Rediscovery Series. Those of us who have been searching for more works by Kauffman, after the release of her The Body in Four Parts, extend our earnest gratitude to Graywolf, for making this earlier work available to a larger readership.

Josip Novakovich's Apricots from Chernobyl is what we would call an idiosyncratic, and even a bit "knobby" book. A collection of essays from a statesman of the former Yugoslavia nation, Novakovich adds to the Graywolf catalog an Eastern European nostaligia and humorous ennui uncommon to many offerings from small presses.

Amid our categories of "dull shine that may or may not lead to future brilliance," we place R.A. Sasaki's first novel, The Loom and Other Stories, which has a bit of a shine, almost in spite of itself (this is discussed further in the linked review here). Then there is Graywolf's work by Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter?, which has all the dim luster of being spoon-fed one-man's-history of U.S. poetry and its "new" applications to the reading populace. To be fair, Graywolf sent us a catalog, and we were invited to select whichever books we desired for review...

Another of our selections was Elizabeth Cox's Night Talk, a novel somewhat too unambitious to be truly intriguing for the sage multicultural reader, but of strong value, we found, for juvenile and young adult readers. Check this one out for a young person interested in discovering more about race relations.

We end this salute to Graywolf with high praise for the publication of an 18-month correspondence between preeminent contemporary author Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Wright. Edited by Wright's widow, Anne, the collection, called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, is a work of astonishing breadth, intelligence, and wonder.

The scope of Graywolf's offerings, as detailed only in small part here, is happily fulfilling. STANDARDS is therefore pleased to vote Graywolf our Best of the Small Press Award recipient, for this year. Felicidades!

About Our Review Notations:

We have used common culinary symbols in representing the general spirit of our reviews, in a parody of the too-familiar treatment of "multiculturalism" as "the four food groups": African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. The meaning of the notations themselves, however, is more serious. "Cutting edge" is reserved for those books we've reviewed here that bring something truly new and exciting to the world of multicultural literature. The "Measure of Our Times" notation is for those selections we found to be representative of current conditions within our changing cultures. We chose "mixing it up" to mean those works which have succeeded in changing a persistent but inaccurate viewpoint of a culture or experience. And a "pan" by any other name is still a pan...



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Original Graphic © 1998 by
Jim Davis-Rosenthal


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