In the early 1970s, a student at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop named Allan Kornblum painstakingly assembled a letterpress operation which he named “Toothpaste Press.” In 1984, Kornblum moved to Minnesota, renamed his operation “Coffee House Press,” and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since officially becoming an independent publishing house, Coffee House Press has challenged the notions of what literature is and how much of an impact it can truly have. It’s a mission driving powerful results: in this past year alone, two Coffee House titles have been shortlisted for National Book Critics Circle awards. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya, is in the running for the John Leonard Award, which honors a debut work. Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of my Teeth was also nominated, in this case for the NBCC award in fiction. Highlighting the most recent of their successes, Coffee House Press was featured in the February 2016 Issue of Independent Publisher.
While Coffee House Press is first and foremost a publisher, they maintain a strong presence in the literary community. Coffee House has partnered with numerous organizations throughout the years, including the Walker Art Center and the Minnesota Historical Society. Coffee House also offers several residencies for writers, including “Coffee House in the Parks,” a new program established this winter. In collaboration with Three Rivers Park District, Coffee House set up an inventive writer’s retreat in a 6′ x 8′ ice shanty in Silverwood Park.
Aside from community collaboration, Coffee House Press is piloting guerilla marketing tactics to reinvent the way people look at literature. One of their newest innovations is “Coffee Sleeves,” a clever twist off of the publisher’s espresso-themed name where excerpts of poetry and prose written by local writers of color were printed on 10,000 coffee sleeves, to be distributed in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro.
“It’s a way of putting literature in a public space and giving people a literary experience that isn’t reading a book,” says Caroline Casey, Coffee House Press’s managing director, in a piece by The Atlantic on January 28.
With their commitment to community, culture, and collaboration, it’s a small wonder that Coffee House is considered one of the top independent publishers around. Thank you, Coffee House Press, for everything you share with the world, and best of luck at the NBCC Awards!