by Connor Fisher
Coffee House Press is a small, literary press based out of Minneapolis. The press was founded by Allan Kornblum and publishes eighteen books a year. The genres of works published include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, memoir, and anthologies. Notable authors who have had books recently published by Coffee House Press include: Eleni Sikelianos, Travis Nichols, Brian Evenson, Selah Saterstrom, and Mark McMorris.
The press’ website, in addition to providing a regularly refreshed list of current authors and an online store, houses a list of upcoming events involving Coffee House authors and a blog. The blog contains various types of material surrounding the press and its authors, including artist statements, book excerpts, and written thoughts and statements from current and previous residents in the Coffee House Press Writers and Readers Library Residency Program.
Due to the relatively large size of Coffee House Press compared with many small presses (Brent Cunningham of Small Press Distribution considers Coffee House an “independent press” rather than a “small press”), the press tends to have a more inclusive aesthetic than many smaller presses. Coffee House does not exclusively publish work within any single, specific genre or subgenre. Its catalog includes works of mostly-realist literary fiction (e.g. The Kind One by Laird Hunt; a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award and winner of the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award), documentary poetry (e.g. Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak), experimental poetry (e.g. Julie Carr and Dan Beachy-Quick, among many others), and notable poets associated with the New York School (e.g. Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman), alongside numerous anthologies, memoirs, and works of nonfiction.
Interview with Publishing Assistant Molly Fuller
Connor Fisher: I see from coffeehousepress.org that the press is located in Minneapolis—was it founded there as well, and was the press created for a specific reason (e.g. to fill a gap in the literary scene of the time)?
Molly Fuller: Coffee House Press originally started as a mimeograph magazine called Toothpaste Press, in Iowa in the 1970s.It was a sort of way to bring the care and tradition of classically designed books to more avant garde writers. [CHP founder Allan Kornblum] wanted to make sure these writers were not just printed but published; essentially to also bring the commerce and professionalism of publishing to these writers operating on the margins.
CF: How is Coffee House funded?
MF: We are funded by a variety of sources, revenue from sales comprising the largest part. We are also a 501c3 nonprofit, so we additionally receive money from government and private grants and individual contributions. Even though the amounts are different, all of these sources are equally important as we could not operate without all of them.
CF: I saw online that Coffee House publishes about 14-16 books a year (fairly large for a small press)—does the press have an ideal size that it would like to reach (whether larger or smaller), or has the number and quality of manuscript submissions and book sales determined the size of Coffee House, to some extent?
MF: We actually publish 18 books a year at this point and we feel pretty satisfied with that number. It’s large enough that we can bring a good amount of great literature to the reading community, but also small enough that we can really spend a lot of time working on the books and with the authors. I would say that is the main reason we have settled on that number; we are a staff of ten, and the amount of care we put into each book is largely what determines our size.
CF: the Coffee House mission statement states that the press aims to “produce books that celebrate imagination, innovation . . and the many authentic voices of the American experience.” In meeting this goal, does the press adhere to a specific aesthetic or polemic? or does the quality of the manuscripts themselves determine which are selected for publication?
MF: We don’t necessarily subscribe to any particular aesthetic; we don’t want to be a static entity. We change and grow, and are allowed to do so because we aren’t fixed on any one particular type of book or author or genre. We publish new books in context with books we’ve previously published, so in a lot of ways our list guides itself, certainly in conjunction with our long standing staff and authors. We have a full-time staff that is working years ahead of the books that are coming out currently, so that really allows us to be flexible, but also selective in choosing what we put into the world. Quality of the manuscripts plays a huge role in what we publish, but there are some things we specifically don’t publish, genre fiction being one of them. A person may have written the best traditional historical romance any of us has ever read, but that doesn’t fit in with the mission of the press. The mission guides our selections and we publish on a very broad range of topics, in a variety of styles. I guess I would say one thing that determines a CHP book is a unique element; a bending of traditional language, format, or style; an element of surprise so to speak. We are, in a way, a home for orphan books; books that add to the cultural vitality of the reading community but that probably wouldn’t get picked up by a big publishing house.
NewPages.com Interview with Allan Kornblum
In mid-2006, newpages.com interviewed Coffee House Press founder Allan Kornblum—the interview can be accessed here. In the interview, Kornblum expands upon his motives for starting a small mimeograph magazine in Iowa in 1970 (which would eventually become Coffee House Press) and discusses the importance of typography and letterpress printing to the formation of Coffee House Press.