Big news from Minneapolis publisher Coffee House Press: Anitra Budd — writer, editor, mentor, teacher — has been named the new publisher. We caught up with her for a few questions.
Q: You spent five years (2009-14) at Coffee House as an acquisitions editor. What made you want to return?
A: Over the last 18 months, I've realized I want to have a bigger impact on the world. I've experienced the publishing business from a lot of different angles but I've never had a role where I could put all those perspectives to use at once. And getting a chance to lead this particular staff — which has acquired National Book Award winners, been shortlisted for translation prizes, and much more — was an irresistible draw.
Q: You will be the third publisher in Coffee House's 50-year history and the first woman, as well as the first person of color, to run the show. How do you see this affecting Coffee House's work?
A: I'm very fortunate in that women on staff are already changing how CHP acquires books. Executive Editor Erika Stevens and Managing Director Carla Valadez have instituted formal acquisitions meetings, which is a much more collaborative model than the one we had before.
Increased collaboration is likely one change you'll see — I'm a big believer in the power of teams and collective genius. But overall, I'm not so much thinking about making changes right now as "How can I build on, and then broadcast, what Coffee House already does well?"
Q: The slogan on the Coffee House T-shirts is "Experimental Books About Death." That is sort of the reputation — difficult, somber novels and collections of essays and poetry. Is that how you view Coffee House books?
A: I see that slogan in a totally different way. Take the word "experimental." For me, experimentation means continuously posing and testing hypotheses and pushing for new ways of thinking even when it's uncomfortable or scary. And then there's death, which can represent so much more than literal loss of life: transformation, renewal, doorways between planes of existence. So I read that slogan and think, "Raucous, transformative inquiry? Sure sounds like Coffee House to me!"
Q: You have a bachelor's degree in Latin. Tell us about that.
A: I started taking Latin in eighth grade mainly because my friends were taking French and Spanish, and heaven forbid I go along with the crowd. But I enjoyed it — its visual nature, the puzzle of declensions and cases and moods. By the time I transferred to the University of Minnesota from Carleton College, I'd taken so many Latin classes I'd nearly completed the major requirements.
At that point my girlfriend-now-wife and I were shouldering my tuition with loans and credit cards, so paying to start a more career-focused major didn't make sense. The choice made itself: I was getting a B.A. in Latin.
Q: What do you hope for the future of Coffee House Press? (And is anyone still doing those lovely hand-set broadsides that Allan Kornblum used to do?)
A: I hope someday all of our stakeholders — staff, board, authors, donors, readers — see Coffee House as a place where everyone can take part in that raucous experimentation and transformation I talked about before.
As for the broadsides, with our 50th anniversary coming up next year, I'm very interested in reengaging that part of our history. I have five CHP broadsides hanging up around my house, so they're never far from my mind.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books.