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Book editor honored for contributions to literary culture

Mary Ann Grossmann (left) talks about books and her career with Fiona McCrae, director and publisher of Graywolf Press in Minneapolis. Grossman recently received the 2019 A.P. Anderson Award for her contributions to the arts and culture of Minnesota. photo by Mary Dupont

Mary Ann Grossmann, a journalist and editor, book lover and literary critic, is the 2019 recipient of the A.P. Anderson Award.

She is the 21st individual to be honored by the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies "for outstanding contributions to the arts and culture of Minnesota."

Grossmann, who lives in St. Paul, joined the staff of the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press in 1961. She is credited with transforming the society section into a platform for women's issues, Anderson Center spokesmen said.

She moved to the books beat in the 1980s, and for many years has been book editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Again, spokesmen said, Grossmann played a key role in shaping the literary culture of Minnesota.

Grossmann talked about her career and the present state of that literary culture during a recent award presentation at Tower View. Fiona McCrae, director and publisher of Graywolf Press in Minneapolis, conducted the question-answer session.

"It was a wonderful time to be a book editor," Grossmann said, because the Twin Cities was undergoing a renaissance with small presses, independent bookstores and successful authors working cooperatively. "Everybody helped everybody else," she noted.

Gradually technology affected the industry. However, Grossmann said, "People will find the good books." Technology has, however, changed how she works.

For example, she described attending the annual Minnesota Book Awards ceremony and having to tweet the results as each award was announced while at the same time she was taking notes for a story — and posting on Facebook, too.

When reading new books submitted for reviewal, "I can tell in 10 pages" whether she likes it, but she will try to go at least 50 pages for authors and books she feels have "legacy" status although "It's hard to read books in a voice I do not like. ... As a reviewer of all sorts of books, I try to boost people and say, 'Keep going'."

Grossmann also respects a group of books some other reviewers ignore. "I have watched self-publishing grow up," she explained.

In the spring and fall she gets about five bins of new books every day. Grossmann looks for Minnesota books, and is excited to find a growing trend toward new voices and new diversity among authors.

"I think readers are pushing it," she believes. "They want to read about the things we are talking about, and to read about other cultures. ..."I think readers are going to demand even more" contemporary, diverse writing.

If she ever retires, will the St. Paul paper still have a book page?

"I haven't the foggiest," she said. The trend is not to replace people when they leave the paper. I just get up and do the best I can. There are more books, more authors."

Of all the writers she has met over the years, some of the "most generous" have been actress Shirley MacLaine and first lady Rosalynn Carter, Grossmann said. "Susan Sontag terrified me," and Russell Means was probably the most cantankerous — although "he wrote a good book."

Her reaction to those individuals was never part of the story, she stressed. "It means nothing to the reader."

Has writing changed?

"There will always be good books and bad books," Grossmann said, nothing that dystopian novels are popular right now. Pointing to the multicultural offerings she is seeing currently, she added, "We get the books we need at the time we need them."

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