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Small Press Success

Graywolf Press  is one of many independent presses that have found their place in the shadow of bigger publishing houses. In the past few years, Graywolf has released some of the most groundbreaking American nonfiction. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which won the 2015 National Books Critics Circle award, complicated notions of sexuality and desire with tender, cutting prose. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric conveyed a sense of exhaustion of American racial harassment and violence that resonated with many readers.

The Argonauts and Citizen are each less than 160 pages long. They’re built from fragments and vignettes that don’t so much combine genres—personal essay, critical theory, poetry, and photography—as they put them into a blender and shred them. Both play with method and perspective to offer insight into crucial subjects: One explores what it’s like to love a fluidly gendered person, the other grieves the continued killings of black citizens by the police. Rather than depending on preexisting notions of what succeeds, these writers pursued faith in new models, and The Argonauts and Citizen both happened to do quite well among mainstream audiences (the latter sold over 60,000 copies). The Argonauts won a National Book Critics Circle Award, Citizen was a finalist for a National Book Award, and both can be found in major bookstores just about everywhere.

Another notable press subverting traditional publishing standards is Dorothy, which is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Run by the experimental writer and book designer Danielle Dutton, Dorothy publishes just two books a year, and the books are small, beautiful, and cost only $16.

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