George Gmelch: Inside Pitch

March 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

9780803271289_p0_v1_s260x420978-0803271289 – University of Nebraska Press Bison Books – paperback – $16 (no ebook edition available!)

Given my longstanding interest in baseball and an early background in anthropology, it’s kind of surprising to me that I missed knowing about the work of George Gmelch until very recently.

I ran across George’s books in some random searching having to do with baseball, and happily was able to get an introduction to him through my anthropologist brother.  When he was young, George was a baseball player, and a pretty good one.  Like so many others, he played for several years in the lower minor leagues, but never made it to the Major Leagues.  It’s possible he quit too early, but it’s also likely that he made the right choice to quit baseball and go back to school (and got his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara) and then became an accomplished cultural anthropologist, studying tourism, sport cultures, and migration. He has worked among and written about Irish Travellers, English Gypsies, return migrants in Ireland and Newfoundland, commercial fishermen, Alaska natives, and Caribbean villagers and tourism workers, and has taught at several universities.

Given his training as an anthropologist and his unusual background as a minor league baseball player, it made sense that he could study baseball players, perhaps in ways that non-players could never manage.  So some 30 years after his playing days ended, George arranged with friends still in the game to spend time with major and minor league players as an observer.  Over the course of five years, he interviewed more than 100 players, coaches and managers, and got to experience and document the inner workings and social milieu of modern day baseball as it is lived by its participants.

Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball is nothing like a typical anthropological ethnography.  There’s a great deal of George’s personal story throughout, and it’s neither dry nor academic.  But the observational techniques and abilities of the trained anthropologist are brought to bear, as George ruminates on the differences between modern players and those of his own era.

It’s unusual for us to get an insider’s view of the game that gets past the public relations walls that the institution and all its participants have build around it to protect the image of the game.  Minor league players, though rarely interested in George’s own experience as a player, were always willing to tell him about their experiences, and even normally wary major leaguers were willing to talk to him once he explained that he was a former player doing anthropology, not a reporter looking for an angle.

So if you love baseball, Inside Pitch is a terrific read, and will enrich your understanding of what it is really like to play professional baseball.  I was especially taken with the writing about and the interviews with players that illustrated the psychological struggles that players go through.  I recently read the excellent RA Dickey memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, which is a terrific complement to Inside Pitch, as so much of Dickey’s story is about how he managed to conquer his personal demons and harness his inner being to finally become a successful pitcher after years of struggle.  Gmelch both give us many quotes of players talking about their mental struggles and writes about these issues perceptively.

Baseball is generally considered a cerebral game because of its complexity and pace.  That, and the fact that there are so many games in a very long season, create a very challenging emotional and psychological environment for players.   We rarely, if ever, get to see close up what that can mean for them.  And because the vast majority of players who play in the minor leagues never make it to the majors or only get there for a brief time, reading about their struggles can change the way you think about the players who do get to the majors and stay there for any length of time.  They really do have to be special, lucky and to have developed a solid psyche in order to be able to survive and thrive in such a difficult and fraught environment.

George Gmelch has written eleven books and now teaches at the University of San Francisco, where he co-directs the anthropology program. I’ve now got an earlier book of his, In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People on my reading list as well.  Talking to him about his experiences as a player, anthropologist and writer was a terrific pleasure for me.2147483669_u_gmelch_georgedickey.book1  Alert to listeners: we had such a good conversation that I lost track of time, and this is a longer than average podcast at 54 minutes.

James Howard Kunstler Reading from an Unpublished Novel

March 20, 2013 by  
Filed under AuthorsVoices

225px-Jim_w_mustacheGenetically and biologically, we humans must still be heavily pre-literate, so the oral transmission of ideas, art and culture is powerful for us; we listen and concentrate on the words differently than we are used to doing when we consume written texts.  I have always enjoyed hearing writers read their work.  The author’s voice carries intonation and meaning that adds to the impact of the work and makes me feel closer to the writing.

So it’s a great pleasure to feature one of my favorite writers, James Howard Kunstler, in the AuthorsVoices series here at Writerscast.  Kunstler is the author of a long list of really interesting books.  He started out as a novelist, publishing novels on a variety of topics and settings through the nineties, when he switched to publishing nonfiction books about social and geographical issues, focusing on the suburbanization of America for the most part.  The in 2005, Grove Atlantic published his The Long Emergency, a brilliant and troubling book about climate change and the ”converging catastrophes of the 21st Century.”

In February, 2011, I interviewed Jim about the post-apocalyptic World Made by Hand series of novels that are his imaginings of what life will be like in the world after the collapse he predicted in The Long Emergency.  At that time, he had written and published two books in the series, World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron.  That interview can be found here. The third book in the series is still in progress, and it is from that novel that Jim is reading in this recording.

Kunstler’s excellent and active website is here.  He blogs weekly and always has something interesting to say.  You can read about his newest book, Too Much Magic, here; this book tells us how and why the long emergency is already upon us.  The world in the novels he imagines may get here sooner than we think.TooMuchMagicJacket72dpi

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Andy Doe

doe_headshotIn 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.

I discovered Andy Doe’s writing quite by accident, and a happy accident that was.  UK based, Andy comes from the music business. Most recently, he was the COO at classical music label Naxos from 2010-2012, and was head of classical music at iTunes from 2004-2010; now he freelances to help artists, labels and other organizations on recording and marketing activity, both on and offline.  He also blogs brilliantly and with a great sense of humor at Proper Discord.

A piece he posted in November, 2012 caught my attention and is one I highly recommend to anyone interested in physical and digital media; it’s called What is Going on with the Record Industry (at New Music Box, a very cool site about new music). It’s a list of ten observations with explications of each.  The first one is called  “Almost everything you read about the state of the record industry is, at best, totally useless,” which should give you a good idea of where Andy is coming from and where this piece might be headed.

Naturally, I thought it would be fun to talk to Andy about his thinking about the record business and to draw him out on how what has happened and is happening in that industry might apply (or not apply) to the book business. We do tend to think that all entertainment media businesses, including books, music, television, radio, film, video games and even newspapers have similar enough structures and relationships between physical and digital media, as well as similar disruptive innovations as to make the experiences in one useful to the those who work in other creative industries.  So we talked about that a bit, as well as how some of what Andy has observed and learned in the music business may not be relevant to book publishing.  Overall, because he is such a smart and witty guy, I think this conversation should be of particular interest.  As has happened recently, when discussions have been going well, we have gone a bit longer than podcasts usually go. This one is 47 minutes.

Another good reference point I should mention – here’s a written interview with Andy Doe by Tom Manoff you might enjoy as well.

And oh, by the way, this is the 200th interview I have posted on Writerscast since its inception just a few years ago.  I’d like to thank all the wonderful writers, technologists and thinkers who have been willing to give me some of their valuable time to pepper them with questions and engage them in my enthusiasms and interests.  And I’d also like to thank the individuals who have helped make this project work, my daughter, Emma Wilk, for editing my often poor efforts at recording, website builder and podcast expert Rob Simon of Burst Marketing, and his web guru, Jeremy Brieske.

And in particular I owe thanks to all of you who have listened and responded to this humble effort to contribute to the cultural and intellectual good of all. andy_doe_2-540x359

David George Haskell: The Forest Unseen

February 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Forest Unseen Cover9780143122944 – Penguin – paperback – $16.00 (ebook versions available, hardcover also)

Most of us are not very good at seeing the details in the world that surrounds us.  We’re in a hurry, we’re overloaded with information, and we don’t really have the patience for the kind of looking that it takes to absorb and think about that kind of information.

The brilliant geographer, Carl Ortwin Sauer observed this about naturalists:
“Much of what [they] identify and compare lies outside of quantitative analysis. Species are not recognized by measurements but by the judgment of those well experienced in their significant differences. An innate aptitude to register on differences and similarities is joined to a ready curiosity and reflection on the meaning of likeness and unlikeness. There is, I am confident, such a thing as the “morphologic eye,” a spontaneous and critical attention to form and pattern. Every good naturalist has it…”

This is a fairly apt description of the work that naturalist David George Haskell undertook before writing The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.  And what a beautiful book it is!

Haskell is a biologist at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.  He located a small piece of old growth forest nearby (old growth forest typically still exists in relatively tiny pockets in places where the terrain was too difficult for loggers to get into).  With a certain nod to Buddhism, Haskell found a one meter by one meter square piece of forest he termed his mandala, and committed to spending a full year in close observation of this tiny sampling of an original and relatively undisturbed ecosystem.

Over the course of that year, he intrepidly sat and watched, and sometimes closely examined with a magnifying glass, what happened in his square meter of land.  Each time he visited what ultimately became his meditation place, he recorded what he saw, and then researched and wrote about what had happened during that day.  Of course this sounds mundane and almost plodding.  And in lesser hands, this would just be a perhaps valiant exercise in close observation,.  But it’s in the writing and the meditative exploration that Haskell was able to transform his seen experience into magical prose explorations of nature and what it means to us.

Finding a tick on him leads to a discourse on the life cycle of the tick that is worth re-reading several times.  Hearing a chickadee in winter leads him to write about the amazing ways that these little birds survive the winter.  Finding a golf ball in his sacred space (this may be a piece of wilderness but it’s boundaries by a nearby golf course) provides Haskell with the opportunity to explore the meaning of what is the definition of “natural” and the relationship of humans to nature.

David Haskell writes beautifully about nature, but as well, writes brilliantly about the ideas that closely examining the natural world inspire in an intelligent and perceptive human being.  You can read this beautiful book simply to learn a great deal about a wide range of creatures and plants that we often take for granted, how an ecosystem works across time and changing seasons, and how in fact any of us could learn more by close observation.  You can also read this book simply for the sheer beauty of the writing, and the brilliance of its descriptive passages.  Haskell has extended beyond scientific or nature writing with a poetic and spiritual grace and the power of contemplative thought to create something very special and uniquely his own.

This is a book I have been buying frequently to give to friends and family (I am related to two active biologists), and recommend to everyone as one of my favorites.  It was a great pleasure to talk to David Haskell about his work.  I’ve been enjoying reading his blog, called Ramble, now on a regular basis, it’s a wonderful journey for anyone interested in the natural world and how to see it clearly.

Haskell holds degrees from the University of Oxford  (B.A. in Zoology) and from Cornell University (Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). He is Professor of Biology at the University of the South, where he has served both as Chair of Biology and as an Environmental Fellow with the Associated Colleges of the South. He is a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and was granted Elective Membership in the American Ornithologists’ Union in recognition of “significant contributions to ornithology.” He served on the board of the South Cumberland Regional Land Trust, where he initiated and led the campaign to purchase and protect a portion of Shakerag Hollow, where the The Forest Unseen is set, a forest that E. O. Wilson has called a “cathedral of nature.”  David Haskell lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he and his wife, Sarah Vance, run a micro-farm (with goat milk soaps available for purchase at Cudzoo Farm’s pretty cool website).DavidGeorgeHaskell

Note to listeners – I read this book in its lovely Viking hardcover edition, this interview is being posted in February, 2012; as of the end of March 2012, the paperback edition will be available.  The cover here is of the hardcover edition.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Ishmael Reed

Ishmael ReedIn 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.

Ishmael Reed is not only one of my favorite writers (fiction, poetry, theater and a wide range of nonfiction), he is an editor, publisher, literary activist and one of the founders of the Before Columbus Foundation, which has sponsored the American Book Awards since 1980.  His latest publishing venture is Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, sponsoring the work of a diverse set of writers from many continents, including an online magazine, Konch.  He blogs for the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfgate.com.

His own books include the now classic Yellow Back Radio Brokedown, Mumbo Jumbo, The Freelance Pallbearers (a book I like to re-read at least once every five years), Flight to Canada as well as an amazing number of collections of essays, plays and poems, and recently, Powwow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience, an anthology he co-edited with Carla Blank.  Forthcoming books include The Fighter and the Writer: Two American Stories (Random House), and Brawls, a new collection of Ishmael’s always provocative and on point essays. Ishmael Reed is a massively prolific writer in a wide range of forms.

You can read a complete biography of Ishmael here.  It’s pretty impressive, but listen to this interview I did with him to get a real sense of what he has done to support and promote the full breadth of writing and creativity in this country (and around the world).  Ishmael Reed gives voice to the heart and soul of the river of creativity that flows out of and through the great American continent, and never fails to tell truth to power, expose alternative views of accepted wisdom, and makes us think long and hard about who we really are.Fiction Anthology_0  This conversation covers a wide range of topics, and includes much about the history of independent publishing in the last several decades, and much more.

Blan_0609807846-330 A guest appearance by editor, writer and professor Carla Blank near the end of our talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carla Blank

Michael Feinstein: The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs

January 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Gershwins and Me978-1451645309 – Simon & Schuster – Hardcover -  $45 (ebook editions available at lower prices)

Michael Feinstein is doubtless the most active supporter and proponent of the Great American Songbook we have.  Aside from his own inspiring performances, he is an incredible impresario of the music he loves and that he loves to share.  His “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook” show is on PBS (and past seasons are available on DVD).  He performs more than 200 times a year, and records regularly.

Michael has been nominated for five Grammys, most recently in 2009 for The Sinatra Project and his TV special, Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Legacy, is currently airing on PBS.

He is also the founder of the Feinstein Initiative, that preserves and promotes the Great American Songbook, and serves as Artistic Director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts, a $170 million, three-theatre venue in Carmel, Indiana, which opened in January 2011. The theater is home to an annual international Great American Arts festival, diverse live programming and a museum for his rare memorabilia and manuscripts. Starting in 2010, he became the director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2013, he will replace the late Marvin Hamlisch as the lead conductor of the Pasadena Pops.

His many other credits include scoring the original music for the film Get Bruce and performing on the hits television series “Better With You,” “Caroline in the City,” “Melrose Place,” “Coach,” “Cybill“ and “7th Heaven.”

Feinstein was born in Columbus, Ohio, where he started playing piano by ear as a 5-year-old. After graduating from high school, he worked in local piano bars for two years, and then moved to Los Angeles when he was 20. The widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant introduced him to Ira Gershwin in July 1977. Feinstein became Gershwin’s assistant for six years, deeply influencing his life and setting him on the path that has become his life as a singer, songwriter and promoter of music.

In The Gershwins and Me, Feinstein tells a personal story in which each of the twelve chapters highlights one of the Gershwin classic songs, using them to tell the story of the Gershwin brothers and their family, illuminating their music and incredible creativity, and telling memorable personal stories throughout. In this unusual narrative, Feinstein tells a moving chronicle of his own life with the Gershwins and his vision of how their music inculcates so much of modern American life.  It’s a wonderful, personal and special book that I very much enjoyed discussing with author Michael Feinstein, whose amazing website demonstrates the incredible breadth of his work in music.Style: "p25+-Ipro"

mf-ira-100

Melanie Hoffert: Prairie Silence: A Memoir

January 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-0807044735 – Beacon Press – hardcover -  $24.95
(ebook editions available at lower prices)

Melanie Hoffert’s Prairie Silence is about growing up on the prairie of North Dakota.  The silence she talks about is most often her own, though there are many other kinds of silences in the small town she grew up in.  Her story is about growing up gay in a place that seems alien to her, in a family she felt she could reveal her true self to (until much later in her life after she had moved away – her eventual coming out story is just emblematic of the awkwardness that she mostly recognizes now was projected rather than felt).

Now living in Minneapolis, Hoffert feels the need to return home to her family farm, to work with her farmer father and brother, reconnect to her mother, and to better understand the place she came from.  Interacting for a solid period of time with family, friends and neighbors gives the book its narrative, and places her in the complicated nexus of self, place and other.

Prairie Silence is a warm, sometimes surprising memoir that combines an internal voice with a clear eyed reflection of the northern plains we often call the “heartland,” whose residents often and perhaps ironically, have terrible challenges connecting with their own hearts and souls, and thus are unable to sympathize with the hearts of others, especially those who don’t share their own values.   But as she learns more about the people she left behind, Hoffert does find connections, and real ones, with many of those to whom she could not trust to reveal herself.

Hoffert’s prose is plainspoken and clear, just as she was in her interview with me about this strong debut work of nonfiction.  A warm and loving memoir I highly recommend and an excellent introduction to a fine new writer.

Melanie has an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and her work has appeared in several literary journals. She received the 2005 Creative Nonfiction Award from the Baltimore Review and the 2010 Creative Nonfiction Award from New Millennium Writings. Since 2008 she has worked for Teach For America as managing director of TFANet, the online social-networking hub for their corps members and alumni.

Author website here.

“Sometimes at dusk, when the world is purple, I go searching for elements of a small town in the city. I usually walk down alleys, where yellow light spills from the back of houses onto piles of dusty red bricks and onto old lumber; where forgotten white Christmas lights crawl like vines over many of the fences; where junk cars sit as if in a museum; and recycling bins display the ingredients of meals consumed weeks ago. In alleys people do not have a need to present a manicured life and I feel closer to the neighbors I will never know. In these alleys, where the roads are narrow and life is presented as it is lived—messy and whimsical—I see glimpses of what I left behind.”

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews CLMP Director Jeffrey Lependorf

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!

ALERT: this is another relatively long podcast, just over 43 minutes, but I believe it’s well worth your time.

Luis J. Rodriguez: It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing

December 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-1-416584162 – Touchstone – Hardcover – $24.99 (978-1-416584179, paperback $15.99; ebook editions available at lower prices)

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.

Visit the author’s website here and that of his independent Tia Chucha Press, learning and cultural center here.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Coffee House Press Founder Allan Kornblum

December 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

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….

« Previous PageNext Page »