In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture. This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.
These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.
Jeffrey Lependorf has an unusual perspective on publishing. He is the Executive Director of two nonprofit organizations: both the New York City based Council of Literary Magazines (CLMP) and the Berkeley, California based Small Press Distribution (SPD). CLMP provides support services to and advocacy for literary magazines and independent literary presses, while SPD provides distribution and sales services to the same general constituency (though not always the same presses and magazines). Both organizations have been on the scene for many, many years and their identities and services have changed significantly over time.
While the overall publishing industry has undergone sea changes in physical retailing and wholesaling that have created challenges for commercial publishers, those changes have caused massive disruption for hundreds of smaller literary presses and magazines, mostly by reducing their retail viability and forcing them to look for other means of reaching readers, including innovative approaches to digital publishing and direct to consumer sales. Independent presses and magazines may be quietly creating some incredibly valuable and interesting approaches to connecting with readers that could provide long lasting benefits for them, and models for larger publishers to emulate.
In this conversation, I took advantage of Lependorf’s unique perspective to discuss the past, present and future of independent literary publishing, both books and magazines, as well as some of the digital initiatives they have undertaken, and the specific activities of both the organizations he operates. It’s worth visiting both the CLMP and SPD websites. If you’re interested in what independent publishers are doing, CLMP has alot of information; if you’d like to see the books and magazines (and ebooks) that independent publishers are producing, visit SPD, where, it is important to note, you can browse and buy thousands of unusual and important publications directly (even though they also distribute to retailers like Amazon, B&N and many independent bookstores). Support independent literary publishing by buying their books whenever you can.
By the way, Lependorf has another career as a composer and performer whose work I also admire. Amazing stuff from an amazing person!
This is flat out a stunning book. Luis tells his life story pulling no punches, avoiding no pain, either that he has given to others or that others gave to him. Years ago, when I read his first memoir Always Running (some pieces of which are repeated or retold here), I knew that he was a great storyteller. His poetry is crystal-like, full of shards of emotion and insight.
Rodriguez is a powerful writer. His prose flows like a river and carries you along with Luis, as he makes terrible mistakes, strives to become better, to understand who he is in a terrible, painful and challenging world. He grew up in California, child of immigrants, always struggling, and early on in life, unlike anyone else in his family, was drawn into the gang life, engaged in all sorts of crime, did drugs, was violent, full of rage and sorrow. But he was always a reader, always smart enough, emotionally engaged enough, to want more, to be engaged, to struggle. In It Calls You Back, Rodriguez documents everything, how he became a writer, politically engaged, an activist working with gangs, a lover, husband and father, whose own son makes the dramatic and terrible mistake that changes his life forever, despite everything Luis thought he had done to help his son escape La Vida Loca (the crazy life) of the gangs.
It has taken years for Rodriguez to become who he is today, but his past life is always with him, always running inside his heart and soul. His life’s work is all about engagement, transformation, and social change. I admire what he has done to turn his experiences into such powerful action. Reading this book is as transformative for the reader as it was for the author. I hope my conversation with Luis will help illuminate and amplify the story he has to tell.
In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture. This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been talking to a wide variety of people in the book business, mostly about the future of writing, publishing, and reading. But the future is always built on what has gone before now. And there has been so much incredibly creative and wonderful publishing work done in recent years, I’ve wanted to share some of the experiences of people who have accomplished so much, with vision, talent and amazing effort.
I’ve known Allan Kornblum, founder of Coffee House Press (and its predecessor, Toothpaste Press), a long, long time. He and I started out in publishing in similar ways and around the same time, the early 1970s. Allan started out as many of us did in those days publishing a handmade mimeo magazine. But he discovered fine printing by taking classes at the University of Iowa with the renowned Harry Duncan (Cummington Press – there is a great interview with him in a wonderful book called Against the Grain, interviews with independent publishers, you can access this book online through Project Muse). Allan’s Toothpaste Press used letterpress printing to create beautiful poetry books and chapbooks for ten years beginning in 1973, when Allan and his wife Cinda lived in West Branch, Iowa (home of Herbert Hoover).
The Kornblums eventually faced an existential crisis with Toothpaste, to either become a letterpress “art press,” producing limited editions at high prices, with limited readership and distribution, or to aim for a broader audience, which for a low margin literary press, requires financial support. Kornblum elected to create a nonprofit publishing venture, renamed Coffee House Press, and moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the literary mecca of the midwest (then as now), where the press has thrived along with several other excellent publishers, with a literary arts center, and an extremely supportive community of readers and writers. Now having published there for almost thirty years, Coffee House is an established an active organization, with a strong board and staff, and a tremendous list of books to its credit, many of which have won awards and have sold extremely well. Coffee House has maintained consistently high editorial and production standards, but it has also been a successful and innovative book marketer, embracing a wealth of tools and approaches to finding audiences for its books.
Interviewing Allan for Publishing Talks was a pleasure for me. I’d also like to recommend listeners to a written interview with Allan from 2006 that can be found at NewPages.com. And visit the Coffee House Press website to see their latest books as well as their exceptional and impressive backlist. Listener alert! These interviews with independent publishers, documenting their history and experiences, are longer than usual. This one is 53 minutes long. Pull up a chair….