Jeff Shotts and Graywolf Press Find National Acclaim in the Literary World

Jeff Shotts is a rare gem in the literary world

Jeff Shotts is a rare gem in the literary world

One of the fascinating Twin Cities community members featured in City Pages' People 2015 issue. Check out our entire People 2015 issue.

Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

Two days after Jeff Shotts started an internship at Graywolf Press, his boss quit and suggested Shotts apply for the vacant position. He got it. Nearly two decades later, he's now the executive editor of the nonprofit Minneapolis publishing house.

From meager beginnings with hand-sewn chapbooks in the 1970s, Graywolf has grown into one of the most respected and innovative independent publishers in the nation. That's in no small part thanks to Shotts.

He's the rare gem in the literary world: an editor with a lighter, more considerate touch. He eschews red pens in favor of more neutral green ink. It may seem trivial, one's reaction to a color, but this meticulous attention to detail and emotion separates him from the slashers in an industry obsessed with pumping out top-sellers early and often.

"I think patience is an overlooked virtue in publishing, and probably in American culture more generally," Shotts says.

He's the man behind the scenes, supporting writers like Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, and Leslie Jamison. While lightning routinely strikes such authors, there's an art to harnessing the spark. "It's seeing what is lightning and what needs some additional electrical currents — and knowing when to get out of the way," he says.

In 2014, Graywolf celebrated its 40th anniversary, but it wasn't the year's only notable event. Graywolf poet Vijay Seshadri won a Pulitzer, and four of the company's titles appeared on the New York Times Notable Books list. It even published the poetry of the ubiquitous James Franco.

Success hasn't shut Shotts off from new writers or experimental literature. "We're always excited by that elusive surprise," he says. "That wild, teeming thing you can't necessarily put your finger on."

After all, he's just looking for a good story — something that will "rattle people, change and inspire them, maybe break some hearts, make us all see each other."