By Ella Davies
Founded in 1972, Coffee House Press originated as a small letterpress operation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since then, it has grown into a globally renowned non-profit press. It publishes work that doesn’t fit precisely into a single genre, such as unique fiction, essays and poetry. The publishing house was part of the small press movement during the 1960s and 70s. Following this, the 80s saw an upsurge of professionalisation among independent presses. Allan Kornblum, the late founder of Coffee House Press, identified a gap in the market for a new type of publishing house.
As a non-profit organisation, Coffee House Press has been recognised and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, the Lila Wallace Foundation and many others. These honours and awards, alongside their impressive book sales and support from independent donors, is what keeps the press running. The press has noted that their continuing status as an independent publishing house is what has allowed them to take meaningful risks and broaden their focus. Following this, they now identify as both a publisher and an arts organisation.
Since the founding of Coffee House Press, their roster of authors has received multiple nominations and prizes. This includes the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The publishing house have published books by authors including Allison Adelle Hedge Coke and Hernan Diaz, among others. They additionally have a range of wonderful initiatives, including Titles Formatted for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which includes eighty diverse titles with unconventional formatting, and the Little Free Library, a donation project which has reached hundreds of readers facing geographical barriers.
Coffee House Press has opened up a variety of interesting opportunities for their authors, readers and programme audiences. Their Books in Action programme and publications have allowed them to become interdisciplinary with seeking new work and audience experiences. For instance, they are interested in visual performances and social practice artists. Coffee House Press’ vision for the future involves a publisher which does much more than produce books. Their mission is to be a catalyst and connector between creators and the community.
Coffee House Press has previously been involved in the 2022 National Book Awards, a set of annual US awards. The publishing house were proud to have published two of the titles among the finalists: Jawbone (2022) by Mónica Ojeda and Look at this Blue (2022) by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. These works encapsulate the interests of Coffee House Press and their ambition to publish unconventional translation and poetry books. Another successful title published by the press is Alive at the End of the World (2022) by Saeed Jones. This powerful text is a collection of poetry exploring grief, history and everyday apocalypses.
The press’ Books in Action programme has facilitated a variety of exciting events, including ‘CHP in the Stacks’. This project was inspired by the Library as Incubator Project. It is a residency programme which connects writers, artists and readers with public and private collections. This not only shines a light on interesting collections, but encourages the creation of new work and fosters creative engagement throughout the community. Coffee House Press has also been able to create the Reading Room project, a public space dedicated to quiet reading. This was held at the Walker Art Centre’s Open Field and at Minnehaha Park. Alongside these interesting programmes, the press has been involved in many other arts and culture projects.
Allan Kornblum’s successor, Chris Fischbach, maintains the original commitment to publishing work which sits outside of mainstream publishing. Some recent achievements include establishing Coffee House Press as a publisher of Spanish and Latinx authors.
Alongside this, they have been involved in the curation of bold feminist books by their Brooklyn-based imprint, Emily Books. They have also facilitated the Spatial Species Series, curated by Ken Chen and Youmna Chala, which examines the activation of space through language. Coffee House Press is now being led into a successful future by their Executive Director, Anitra Budd. Coffee House Press is excited to continue to make more experimental and creative decisions to achieve their vision of being the USA’s leading independent literary publisher.
Notable upcoming releases for Coffee House Press include Rikki Ducornet’s The Plotinus (published July 2023), an allegorical tale about tyranny, conviction, and the enduring power of imagination. Another release to anticipate is M. Evelina Galang’s When the Hibiscus Falls (published June 2023), a collection of stories traversing borderlines, mythic and real, the lives of Filipino women and their ancestors.
It is evident that this innovative press is successful in their goal of increasing global relevance and accessibility to literature. Coffee House Press has created a seamless fusion of unconventional publishing and support for the arts. They have expertly built a space within the publishing industry for artists and audiences to interact and collaborate.