It all started, Allan Kornblum says, with a kick in the butt. Back when he was in college in New York, he helped collate the pages of a poetry magazine, and then went to the editor and asked if he could show him some poems.
"And the editor kind of stared off in the distance and said, 'I've always thought poetry should be as hard to break into as the longshoreman's union,'" Kornblum said. Unfazed by the rejection, he decided, "I'm going to start a little magazine.'"
In the end, of course, he did much more than that, founding Coffee House Press, which has grown into one of the premier nonprofit publishers in the country. On Friday, he was named winner of the Kay Sexton Award, which annually goes to someone who has devoted a life to the literary world in Minnesota.
Kornblum studied letterpress printing in Iowa City, "and kind of fell in love with the craft, that electric moment when you print something that really looks good," he said. He first founded Toothpaste Press, which produced limited-edition chapbooks. "It was a little flip, and it was fun and informal, and that's the way I felt about things at first," he said. But eventually he grew aware of the limitations.
He moved to Minnesota and in 1984, he founded Coffee House Press, where he was publisher until last summer, when he became founder and senior editor.
"I love the challenge of taking a sentence or two and finding a way to arrange the type and maybe add a simple drawing and turn it into something special." said Kornblum, who will be honored April 14 at the Minnesota Book Awards gala in St. Paul. He joins previous winners Carol Connolly, Carolyn Holbrook, and 22 others.