Twin Cities literary scene opens new chapter

Minneapolis, St. Paul continue to be pioneers in bringing the written word to life.


Did you know the Twin Cities have one of the top literary scenes in the United States? Not too many people associate Minneapolis and St. Paul with the avant-garde. But they are right up there with New York, San Francisco and other creative and intellectual forces invested in literature, poetry and the book arts.

Even some locals remain in the dark about the literary prowess in our backyard. It's time to see the light about the arts as a vehicle for social betterment and appreciate the vibrant community of talented writers, diverse publishers, innovative educational programs, events and people that advance the written word here at home.

Start with Rain Taxi, a nonprofit literary organization based in Minneapolis. They have been publishing a quarterly magazine of book reviews since 1996. Led by Rain Taxi editor and executive director Eric Lorberer and art director Kelly Everding, this print journal is not your average look at fiction, nonfiction, poetry and comics. It produces 40-50 award-winning pages of adventurous literature every four months and is now distributed in 150 locations nationwide.

Their latest issue — Volume 27, No. 3, Fall 2022 (#107) — explores Icelandic sagas, composing in public, rap as literature, the indecent Patricia Highsmith, the undiscovered Baudelaire and more. They also have a corollary online edition with unique materials that connect readers to books of merit that might otherwise get overlooked. 

But Rain Taxi is much more than just a magazine. Rain Taxi organizes the Rain Taxi Reading Series and the annual Twin Cities Book Festival, which had its 22nd run on Oct. 15 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (if you didn't make it, check out the festival in 2023). They publish original creative works via chapbooks and broadsides, and, as a service to the local community, maintain the Twin Cities Literary Calendar with a list of literary events in our region.

In all its programs, Rain Taxi is committed to artistic diversity, cultural relevance and widespread access. They exist for readers, writers, publishers, booksellers, educators and kindred spirits of all shapes and sizes. The common bond is a desire to keep books flourishing in a digital world and distracted society. As poet Ron Silliman wrote, Rain Taxi understands small press titles are the "core and soul of American publishing."

"Of course, there's the aesthetic issue — the pleasure of holding actual paper — but there's also the social issue," Lorberer explained in "There's This Book You've Never Heard Of," a City Pages story, published on Oct. 24, 2001. "We want to reach readers from different segments of society, who might not have access to the internet." 

Thanks to the internet and the Wayback Machine, we can still read the story by City Pages, the Minneapolis-St. Paul alternative newspaper that launched in 1979 but was a casualty of the pandemic in 2020 after 41 years of operations.

The closing of City Pages is a reminder of the tenuous grip print publications can have in our age of technology. It's also a reminder there is a place for both digital and print. It doesn't have to be either/or. After surviving COVID and the digital revolution, Rain Taxi is proof that printed words still matter, and there continues to be a market to read them. This year's Twin Cities Book Festival brought together thousands of book lovers to support and celebrate the literary arts.

The opening reception for the book festival was held at Open Book, a Minneapolis literary arts center that opened in 2000 and is the biggest writers' building in the country. Open Book was co-created by Milkweed (an independent publisher), The Loft (a haven for readers and writers since 1974), and Minnesota Center for Book Arts (a visual arts center that celebrates the art of the book). All three of Open Book's founding partner organizations make the place home and a self-described "space for everyone." 

That inclusivity is the spirit of Minnesota's literary community, which also includes the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, a program founded in 2011 by Loft mentor Jennifer Bowen Hicks that now has over 25 instructors who have taught more than 200 creative writing classes to over 3,000 men and women in every adult state prison in Minnesota. Everyone is welcome to experience the joyful universe of words. Nobody is excluded. 

I joined the Rain Taxi board in September thanks to an invitation from fellow Rain Taxi board member Kris Bigalk, who founded and directs a groundbreaking creative writing program at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, the first of its kind in the country. 

One of her former students, also a former student in the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop program, now works at Open Book and helped us with the book festival's opening reception. He also is a talented writer.

One more reminder that words connect us all. 

Want to support Rain Taxi and literary culture? Be a part of Rain Taxi's Give to the Max campaign from now until Nov. 17, or donate at any time of year.

Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not community building, he’s the director of media for Big Edition and writes bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book, “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” is available in English and Spanish.


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