One of the things I enjoyed about seeing Garner chosen as the Read This! selection this time around, beyond the fact that I loved the book, and was happy to see a debut author seeing some recognition and discussion of her work, was the fact that the book was published by Coffee House Press. Coffee House Press is one of many fantastic, smaller, independent, non-profit presses in this country and they greatly help fill in the literary landscape to my mind’s eye.
Frequently the story behind the current day press includes some lover of literature cranking out handmade books and that happens to be the case with Coffee House Press too. In 1970, Allan Kornblum launched a mimeographed magazine called “Toothpaste,” and he further developed the idea two years later when he began publishing handset letterpress books under the imprint of Toothpaste Press. In 1984, he incorporated Coffee House Press as a non-profit and has since moved the operation to downtown Minneapolis.
What did I mean earlier when I said small? Coffee House Press has a staff of six individuals. Six people and they are putting out 8-10 books per catalogue and they are finding incredible new writers as well as continuing to work with established authors that pull in great reviews, and have other authors talking about them, and have small, devoted readerships.
And new writers? As of this last catalogue, Coffee House Press has given 47 authors their first opportunity to see their work in book form. They have received numerous awards and seen many of their books translated into foreign language editions.
These smaller houses often find publisher/editor combinations with a willingness to acquire and publish literary writing that may not be expected to sell copies in the five and six figure numbers, but instead, are happy to be publishing such excellent work and exposing it to as many people as they can. In the case of Coffee House Press, over the past 22 years they’ve published such writers as: Maxine Chernoff, Frank Chin, Andrei Codrescu, Stephen Dixon, Gary Fincke, Albert Goldbarth, Judith Kitchen, Clarence Major, Raymond McDaniel and Lon Otto (who was writing flash fiction back in the late 80’s, maybe even before it was known as such). And of course, Kirstin Allio.
I think the Coffee House Press mission statement makes it pretty clear:
"To promote exciting, vital, and enduring authors of our time; to delight and inspire readers; to contribute to the cultural life of our community; and to enrich our literary heritage. Coffee House Press publishes books that epitomize literary excellence; books that present the dreams and ambitions of peoples who have been underrepresented in published literature; and books that help establish a new common ground for all Americans."
If you’re scanning the shelves in your local bookstore, and see the Coffee House Press imprint on the spine, pull the book down and give it a shot – they tend not to waste your time.