Gail See, force in Twin Cities books community, dies

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Gail See, a strong influencer in the Twin Cities and national literary communities in the 1980s and ’90s, died Friday night at her home in Wayzata after a brief illness, according to her friends Fiona McCrae, retired director of Minneapolis-based Graywolf Press, and Margaret Telfer, who served on several boards with See.

McCrae and Telfer wrote an obituary/tribute to the woman they, and so many others, admired.

“All of us who worked with Gail See over the years loved her natural radiance coupled with a fierce loyalty and commitment to books, ideas, and the extended literary community,” wrote McCrae, who was hired at Graywolf 28 years ago when See was a member of the search committee.

See, who was 94, was well-known for her commitment to free expression when she owned The Bookcase in Wayzata. She was also past president of the American Booksellers Association.

“Gail’s bookstore was amazing,” said David Unowsky, former owner of St. Paul’s Hungry Mind (later Ruminator Books) bookstore and a longtime friend of See. “She could have taken the easy route and carried nice picture books. But she had serious books. She wanted her store to represent every political aspect, to get all ideas out to the public.”

After selling the bookstore, See was one of the founding publishers, with Unowsky, of Ruminator Books, an independent publisher that began in 1994 and continued for 10 years.

“(See) was a fierce advocate for independent booksellers and won many friends on the national publishing scene,” McCrae and Telfer wrote. Locally, she was a founding member of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and became involved with Graywolf Press after it moved to the Twin Cities from Washington state in 1984

A lasting tribute to See is the Gail See staircase at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, created by artist Karen Wirth to look like pages of an open book. See was deeply involved in implementing the unique partnership between the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Milkweed Editions and the Loft, which together own and share space in the Open Book building. They are the only literature-based organizations in the country that share such an arrangement.

See was also passionate about libraries and helped create the annual Pen Pals Lecture Series as a board member of the Library Foundation of Hennepin County, in addition to being a committed board member of the Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries.

In 1999 See received the Minnesota Book Awards’ highest honor, the Kay Sexton award for outstanding service to the literary community.

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