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A Conversation with Katie Eggers: Chronicling the New Twin Cities with a Global Eye

Katharina (Katie) Eggers figures that she has lived in eight different cities in the last eight years. Born in the former East Germany four years before the Wall went down, she worked as a teaching assistant in Thailand and the UK before enrolling in the Institut d'Ètudes politiques de Paris (Colloquially known as Sciences Po) to study social science. As part of her Sciences Po curriculum, she worked in Brussels as a liaison between the European Union and the UN, writing grants.

Settled now in the Twin Cities with her American husband, Guy--a research analyst and project manager for the global research firm ORC International--Eggers has taken on a project that she sees as both local and global: launching Thirty Two, a bimonthly magazine (named for the Fahrenheit point at which water freezes and thaws, and for the fact that Minnesota was the thirty-second state admitted to the Union) that will cover the Twin Cities—and connect it to the nation and the world. It's due to launch in mid-June.

The Line sat down with Eggers to learn about her plans for Thirty Two, her feelings about the cities she will be chronicling, and what it's like to come here to stay.

The Line: Katie Eggers, you were "commuting" back and forth between Europe and the Twin Cities for a number of years while studying, and now you are here to stay. I understand you were something of a goodwill ambassador for our cities.

Katie Eggers: Yes. While I was living in Brussels and London and Paris, I talked to people about my life in Minneapolis, and I was surprised that most of the time people did not know where Minneapolis was. Or they would think it was Indianapolis. It always bothered me that Indianapolis was known for an auto race--even by people who don't care about cars--that that race carried the name of Indianapolis abroad in a way that Minneapolis wasn't carried.

I did a lot of--I wouldn't call it missionary work, but I talked a lot about Minneapolis--how beautiful it was to live here, the lakes, nature, and the other things I liked about the city.

The Line: How did the concept for Thirty Two emerge?

Katie Eggers: I've had the idea for Thirty Two for much longer than the time I've lived here, which is about a year now. During one of the summers I spent here volunteering and getting to know the city, I was looking around and as a newcomer it was hard for me to find a print publication that I felt connected to. But I will say that I spent a lot of time in my library in Paris reading The Line and looking forward to the day when I would move here. It was good to read about the new economy here--that really made the difference for me.

The Pleasures of Print

The Line: We appreciate that! But you will be starting a print publication in the digital age.

Katie Eggers: I love print and I know that a lot of people do. I believe print is not dead. The Internet has shaped the way I made life decisions as much as it has shaped anyone's life. It's a fantastic means, but I don't think it's an end in itself. And I don't think we should strive to spend our lives looking at screens.

Magazines, newspapers, and books are a very simple technology, and it's often the simple technologies that stick with humans for a very, very long time. I think print will stick with us just as long as baking bread and riding bicycles have, even though we do have frozen pizza and cars! You can carry a magazine around, you can roll it up, you don't have to worry about the battery running out, or someone stealing it from you, or losing it. It gives you so much freedom. And it's a beautiful object in itself, if it's well made.

The Line: What are your hopes for Thirty Two?

Katie Eggers: I think the goal of all the people who are involved in this project is to create the most intellectually engaging fine magazine in the Twin Cities. As I started networking, I realized how many wonderful writers there are in the Twin Cities who are looking for something like this.

We want to add a voice to the media landscape that takes a little broader perspective--we want to feature insightful regional and local stories, but we also want to approach what's going on in the Twin Cities from a wider angle, and connect what's happening here with what's happening in the rest of the nation and the world. So if there is a new exhibition in the Walker Art Center, I would like to look at what's happening in Tokyo and London along those same lines--a larger trend in the art world. Another big feature of the magazine will be cross-disciplinary conversations--people we think we know, but whom we usually hear only talking about their work; we want to engage them in larger conversations about their life and views on other matters.

The Perfect Issue

The perfect issue as I envision it would have a local story, then one about something regional--the oil rush in North Dakota, perhaps. Then maybe someone here who is doing international work, or someone who moved somewhere else and came back and has a tale to tell. Of course, it's about finding the perfect mix. We want to be national and international, but not throwing in too many obscure stories from abroad that won't interest anyone. I'm very aware of that!

And we're investing a lot in the layout and the photography, the beauty of the magazine. We want to create something that people cherish in old-fashioned ways.

The Line: You've been doing a lot of networking in the local journalistic and writing communities.

Katie Eggers: We've been talking to a lot of local editors and writers, including a lot of writers who have not been extensively published in the Twin Cities but who write nationally, for the Atlantic or the Washington Post but are based here.

It's obviously a very courageous and very difficult undertaking to make this viable. But I think this is one of those moments when business meets culture and people really enjoy what they are doing. And they are willing to chip in and offer some goodwill to make this happen.

Size Matters

Something like this is easier to do in the Twin Cities, because of our size, because of how well people are connected, and how open they are about sharing their networks. I would shy away from doing something like this in, say, Paris. Europeans tend to tell you, well, if this is a good idea, why isn't it already out there? This is the attitude I grew up with.

The Line: Less of a sense of possibility?

Katie Eggers: Exactly. And this city has a perfect size. It's one of these cities where you can establish a network really quickly, but there is also always an opportunity to meet someone new and to learn about something completely new--the new gallery or the new band, while still feeling the sense of community.

The Line: You've entered a tough business; what's your economic model like?

Katie Eggers: I've begun selling advertising, and I'm hoping to bring smaller local companies on board. But our model is heavily based on subscriptions; we're hoping people will like our first issue and go ahead and subscribe. The way I like to think about it is, a magazine subscription is 20 bucks or 25. It's the price of four Hallmark cards! Four coffees at Starbucks! And it's culture, it's art, something that's worth supporting. Of course, we need to deliver that--but I'm very excited by that challenge.  

Secrets of the City

The Line: As a European newcomer, what has it been like adjusting to living here?

Katie Eggers: When I first moved here I did feel very isolated. I spent a lot of time reading up on the "Minnesota Nice" discussion—is it difficult to make friends here, and all of that. Actually, I am hoping that Thirty Two, with its local-national-international focus, will make newcomers to the cities feel at home more easily and faster.

When you move to New York or to London or Paris, it's very simple to feel part of that city, just by going to the MOMA or Broadway or hanging out in Central Park. But to fit in here there is a lot you have to know that is not obvious—to take part in lunch conversations and office conversations, you have to know the folklore. To know about Garrison Keillor and the Mary Tyler Moore show in the 60s and 70s.

The Line: In the bigger cities, there's a national or international myth about them that you simply enter, and you belong. But here, there's secret knowledge that you have to have in order to fit in.

Katie Eggers: Exactly. We're all happily doing this learning, but it's not quick or easy. And as the local Fortune 500 companies are filling up with transplants, this is something that really should be taken into consideration, I think. You really need a good tour guide when you come here for the first time. It's not one of these cities where everything is concentrated in one place and you can just walk about by yourself and feel connected. The big things to see are spread all over the city—and there are so many secrets! So much going on in people's basements and hidden art galleries, that you need a tour guide who shows you around.

I talked to a lot of people who moved here or considered moving here. They came up here for a week and it ended up being a terrible experience for them because they were by themselves. So I hope Thirty Two can help here too, by guiding people to the current culture, the hidden treasures of the Twin Cities.

Milk in Bags and Shared Televisions

The Line: Do you have any memories of life under socialism in East Germany? You were a very little girl when the Germanies reunited.

Katie Eggers: I remember that the milk was terrible. It came in plastic bags that you would heat. But one experience that I cherish is that our neighborhood only had one TV and it would be passed among the neighbors when something like a soccer championship was going on. Everybody would host a different game and the TV would be carried around.

The Line: That's an ingenious way to create community!

Katie Eggers: Yes, East Germans were known for being very neighborly and very inventive! If you had to wait for a car for ten years after ordering it, you would become very ingenious.

I don't know if this comes from my East German heritage or not, but I do struggle with the increasing lack of authenticity in our daily lives. It's amazing what technology can do, especially in medical fields and other really life-improving areas, but I don't think that upgrading each and every gadget we use ought to be the goal of our existence. I feel like I am in a minority in my generation, holding that belief. The magazine, which I believe will be beautiful, thoughtful, and very committed to this place, is also partly to give people like myself a voice.

Jon Spayde is Managing Editor of The Line.

Photos of Katie Eggers talking with Jon Spayde by Bill Kelley
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