Northeast spotlight :: Coffee House Press

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November 23, 2009 // UPDATED 8:37 am - November 23, 2009
By: Lana Walker
Lana Walker
Falling in love with small press books

Allan Kornblum is in love. It’s not the first time though, and it certainly won’t be the last. He falls in love yearly, monthly, and perhaps, even weekly. The recipients of his affection are not people — they are books. And Kornblum has dedicated the past 40 years of his life to making sure these books find their way into the hands of readers who can fall in love with them too.

Kornblum is the founder of Coffee House Press, a nonprofit literary publishing house celebrating its 25th anniversary. The business publishes 14–15 books a year, including memoirs, novels, short stories, poetry and the occasional book of essays. Many of the published authors are from Minnesota.. While there is no theme connecting the content of Coffee House Press books, many shed light on other cultures, which is something that Kornblum believes is valuable in creating a more tolerant world.

DTJ: How has Coffee House Press changed since opening in 1984?

Allan Kornblum: In the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, small press books were immediately distinguishable from books done by major publishing. They rarely made it to any bookstores. In the mid-80s, Coffee House, along with a number of other small presses like Graywolf [Press] and Milkweed [Editions], took a leap forward and started to add professional people to the staff and give books a much more professional look, greater polish in the editing, and much more planning in marketing. Today, you can find small press books among the most honored books in the country when it comes time for the major awards like the National Book Award or the Pulitzer.

So we’ve been part of a sea change for small literary publishers and we’re proud to have done our part. In the last 10 years, every single fiction title we’ve published has been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly — every single one, and about half of our poetry. That’s very fulfilling because we got into this in order to share our enthusiasm for literature and help writers. We’re able to do that on a much bigger stage now that we’ve grown.

How do you choose your titles? What influences that decision?

Every editor will tell you one of two things. One, that they look for work that will entertain, inspire and instruct the reader, and two, they’re looking to fall in love. When those things all come together, it can be really exciting. We’ve published books that have made people scratch their heads and think ‘What were they thinking when they published that book?,’ and we’ve published books that really have touched people’s hearts. We publish books we believe in and books that we stand by as literature.

What are you most proud of in your 25 years of work at Coffee House Press?

Being part of the movement that’s made it possible for young writers to not only get published by small press, but to have those books really reach an audience and give them a chance at getting discovered, a legitimate shot at it. That’s been very fulfilling.

What is in the future of Coffee House Press?

We have a leadership transition plan in place. I will step down from day-to-day management and will work more directly with authors again. We’re also going to experiment a little with our soon-to-be redesigned website. We have a couple projects in mind that involve contributions from readers on the web combined with authors that are on our list. I’m intrigued at the possibilities of the Internet to see if group-writing projects could actually turn out something worth reading instead of just an oddity.

We’re also about to sign a contract with someone for the conversion of our books into electronic format for the Kindle, the Sony book reader and other e-book formats. So we’re looking to the future both with regard to management and regard to new technologies.

Coffee House Press
Where: 79 13th Ave. NE