08 August 2014

Imprint Small Press Friday: Graywolf Press

Welcome to a special edition of Imprint Friday which today is actually Small Press Friday. Although I usually celebrate new releases from my favorite imprints in this space, I thought I'd do something a little different and feature great reads from a great independent publisher: Graywolf Press. Take a moment to look through their catalogs and be sure to say congratulations on their 40 years in publishing.

I've been a fan of Graywolf for a long time, and I've always been impressed with their ability to consistently publish smart books that both entertain and make me think. And Graywolf doesn't just find the best in fiction, their poetry and short story collections, their memoirs and essays have grabbed my attention as much as their award-winning novels. Here are five books to put on your list.

I'll start with Vijay Seshadri's 3 Sections, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. I haven't read this collection, but an article about Graywolf would be incomplete without bringing Seshadri to your attention. The poems touch on very contemporary subjects, making the pieces accessible to a wide range of readers. The first section is made up of shorter poems about modern society, life in New York, the perils of aging, and travel. I'm particularly interested in the second section, which is a longer poem about commercial salmon fishing in Alaska. It addresses both the beauty of the environment and the politics of the industry. Making up the bulk of the final section is a poem titled "Personal Essay," which explores, according to Publisher Weekly, "what it could mean to be personal, to be one person and not another, in this crowded age." The hardcover was published a year ago (ISBN: 9781555976620) and the paperback will be available in January.

The troubled characters in Robert Boswell's Tumbledown revolve around ambitious therapist James Candler, the soon to be director of the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation Center. Despite juggling his finances, putting up with a slacker temporary roommate, and second-guessing his upcoming marriage, Candler never forgets the clients who need his support. As we get to know the patients, who suffer from a variety of conditions, we ultimately realize that Candler, haunted by the memory of his older brother and pushed by his need to help others, has forgotten to take care of himself. Although the novel is sometimes funny, Boswell is respectful of mental illness and makes us think about what it takes to be able to function in modern society, what it means to be normal, and what happens when we forget to save ourselves. The hardcover came out last year, but the paperback will be available in September (ISBN: 9781555976866).

Jeffery Renard Allen's Song of the Shank is a novel about the real-life Thomas Green Wiggins, better known as the musical genus Blind Tom. What makes this story so incredible is that Tom, born into slavery, was not only blind but was also autistic. That he learned to play the piano and was allowed to pursue his craft despite his handicaps and color is in itself almost unbelievable. Allen imagines the life of the gifted and troubled pianist, filling in the details where the historical record is missing. We learn of the black child who performed for a president of the United States, the white woman who became his guardian, and the myriad others who either tried to exploit his talents or protect him from the evils of the world. Through Blind Tom's story, Allen takes us from the pre-Civil War South to the early 20th century, exploring the changing climate for American blacks and the particular dependency that was the lot of the talented pianist. Published this summer in paperback (ISBN: 9781555976804).

In Blackboard, Lewis Buzbee explores education in America from a number of perspectives. His treatise is not simply testimony to the negative effects of budget cuts, politics, unions, and technology; instead Buzbee looks deeper into his subject, considering everything from the way our schools are built to the subtle messages students pick up from their teachers. He brings his own experiences as both a student and a teacher to the table supplemented by what he learned from watching his daughter move through the system. He worries about the teacher-student ratio; teachers' salaries; society's respect for education; and the lack of funding for music, art, and libraries. Anyone who is bothered by the educational system's focus on tests and success and wishes that more time were devoted to encouraging the love of learning and to nurturing curiosity will appreciate this short, entertaining, and important book. Out in hardcover this month (ISBN: 9781555976835).

High on my reading list is Ru Freeman's On Sal Mal Lane, which made several top-ten lists when it was published last year. The novel is set in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s, during the period leading up to the country's long civil war. Through the families living on Sal Mal Lane, we see how the children's typical pursuits of love, sports, and friendship are affected and influenced by the building political tensions and cultural attitudes of their parents. Almost every reviewer mentioned how beautiful and moving Freeman's prose is, as she explores the divisions--socioeconomic, religious, and emotional--that are brought into sharp focus as war becomes inevitable. The novel brings these issues down to the personal level as the ripples of a country's larger concerns eventually reach even a quiet street inhabited by ordinary people, whom we have come to know intimately. Out now in paperback (ISBN: 9781555976767).

7 comments:

Heather Grove 8/8/14, 7:35 AM  

"Boswell is respectful of mental illness and makes us think about what it takes to be able to function in modern society"

As someone with mental illness who finds it occasionally difficult to function in modern society, this makes me want to read this book, even if it isn't my usual type of book. Thank you for spotlighting it.

JoAnn 8/8/14, 7:52 AM  

I absolutely loved Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and am happy to hear he has a new book on the way... will definitely read that one.

On Sal Mal Lane has been on my wish list for a while, too.

bermudaonion 8/8/14, 8:01 AM  

Blackboard sounds really interesting to me. It would probably make me very glad Vance is through with school.

Melissa (Avid Reader) 8/8/14, 8:23 AM  

These all sound interesting and this publisher is new to me. So glad you shared!

Daryl 8/8/14, 9:00 AM  

thanks, these all sound really interesting

Abigail Ann 8/8/14, 9:16 AM  


This is an interesting range of books! The last one particularly appeals to me.

Vasilly 8/8/14, 10:41 PM  

Graywolf Press often publish interesting titles. Song of the Shank is on my tbr list already along with an upcoming title, Eula Biss's On Immunity.

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