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Telling Stories Still Crucial for Minnesota Monthly Editor


What’s it like for a longtime Minnesota journalist to ascend to the editor’s chair of the region’s most widely read general interest magazine?

“For the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan B,” says Minnesota Monthly’s Joel Hoekstra. “I’m where I want to be.”

Hoekstra’s elevation from managing editor to editor in October 2009 was welcome news to many Minnesota freelancers, who appreciate his respect for writers and devotion to writing.

Indeed, he is most proud of the magazine’s storytelling. “In this age where lots of magazines are all about 50-word blurbs, about the pill you should take, the show you should watch, I would submit that in everything we do we try to tell a story,” he says. “For example, the art section in the front of the magazine is full of short pieces that give you a sense of scene and character. You get a little jewel, a story, something you remember because it had color and character and plot.”

Hoekstra has been with the magazine since 2005, when he was hired as senior editor responsible for launching projects such as the magazine’s signature “Best Doctors for Women.” He became managing editor and then acting editor in 2006 with the departure of Jeff Johnson, until the arrival in 2007 of Andrew Putz, whose departure in early 2009 again left the top spot open.

But Hoekstra, who grew up in Minnesota, had been a working journalist in the state for two decades before joining MnMo’s staff. A St. Olaf College alum who studied English and “read novels without thinking about what to do after that time,” he says, he was gently steered into journalism by a former professor, the late Minnesota author Paul Gruchow. “He advised me to take my talents down to the Northfield newspaper, where Amy Gage (another longtime Twin Cities journalist, now marketing and communications director at St. Catherine University in St. Paul) hired me. She hired me for my knowledge of the area, but also because of my writing.” Hoekstra stayed at the newspaper for about a year, where he covered education and “took pictures of cute farm animals.”

From there he moved to MSP Communications, where he worked on custom publications for about two years, followed by a two-year stint at Twin Cities Business Monthly. Then he edited Q Monthly, put out by the Twin Cities Reader and then City Pages; and spent seven years freelancing for local and national publications, as well as the University of Minnesota and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Before joining up with Minnesota Monthly, he spent a year and a half as senior editor on Lifetime Fitness’s magazine Experience Life.

Giving credit to editors who have preceded him, Hoekstra is characteristically modest about his own stamp on the magazine. “I don’t know that it’s that unique,” he says. “I hope the magazine is a place that attracts people who love to read, to be entertained, who like to laugh, and that we attract that kind of writer. I don’t think that’s a departure from what my predecessors have done. It’s a legacy of what we do here. I’m keen to not drop the ball on my watch.”