Oct 11, 2011
Coffee House started out as the Toothpaste Press in Iowa in the early 1970s. Founded by Allan Kornblum after taking a University of Iowa typography course with the famed printer Harry Duncan, this small publishing house dedicated itself to producing poetry pamphlets and letterpress books. After 10 years, Kornblum closed the press, moved to Minneapolis, reopened it as a nonprofit organization, and began publishing trade books.
In the early 1990s, books such as Donald Duk by Frank Chin and Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita (a 1991 American Book Award winner) drew national attention and helped cement the press's reputation as a publisher of exceptional works by writers of color. According to Kornblum, Coffee House has actively published writers of color as writers, "as representatives of the best in contemporary literature, first and foremost—then, only secondly, as representatives of minority communities." This could well be the press's most important contribution to American literature.
In July 2011, after a two-year leadership transition process, Kornblum stepped down to become the press’s senior editor. Chis Fischbach, who began at the press as an intern in 1994, succeeded him as publisher. Coffee House has published more than 300 books, and releases 15-20 new titles each year. It is known for long-term commitment to the authors it chooses to publish, and is currently located in the historic Grain Belt Bottling House in Northeast Minneapolis, where I met with Kornblum to conduct this interview.