Approximately 250 people--a mix of Minnesota’s book publishing community, Coffee House Press authors, and others--celebrated the life of CHP's founding publisher, Allan Kornblum, in a memorial service at Open Book literary center in downtown Minneapolis. The event took place on January 17, almost two months after Kornblum’s death in November.
Publisher Chris Fischbach, who succeeded Kornblum after he retired in 2011, welcomed the attendees, several of whom, like Riverhead Books publicist Katie Freeman and Laurie Foos, the author of the July release, Blue Girl, the last book Kornblum edited, had come from as far away as New York City to honor a leader in the small press movement that emerged during the ‘70s. “Coffee House Press is a product of Allan’s love,” Fischbach said, “Love is why he did it, love is why he worked so hard, and love is why he wanted to keep on editing even when he was in the hospital towards the end.”
Following Fischbach at the podium, Kornblum’s widow, Cinda, recalled how Kornblum “wrote and re-wrote” the first chapter in the combination memoir/history of the printed word that he was writing up until he entered the hospital, From Gilgamesh to Gutenberg to Google. She promised to try to complete the book and have it eventually published.
The six speakers following Fischbach and Cinda Kornblum at the podium included Andrei Codrescu, a National Public Radio commentator who has published four books with CHP, who praised Kornblum for "keeping [him] on the right path" as an author; and Karen Tei Yamashita, who received a 1991 American Book Award for Through the Arc of the Rainforest, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in fiction for I Hotel. “He made me a small press believer,” Yamashita said, “He made books come alive.” Sông I Sing author Bao Phi recalled during his remarks that after a spoken word poetry performance he’d done, Kornblum had introduced himself and asked Phi to submit a manuscript to the press for publication. “Like changing someone’s life for the better should always be that unquestionably easy,” Phi concluded.
Milkweed Editions’ founding publisher Emilie Buchwald reminisced how Kornblum and she, with Graywolf Press founding publisher Scott Walker, nurtured their literary ventures in the late ‘70s and early 80s. “It was an exciting time,” Buchwald told the crowd, noting that The Loft literary center, founded in Minneapolis in 1975, was also an essential element of the literary renaissance sparked in the Twin Cities by the three literary small presses growing there alongside one another. “I am so grateful to have had such a marvelous colleague and to know that his work will live on and on,” Buchwald said.
This being a celebration of the life of a book publisher famous for giving away at trade shows scores of commemorative broadsides he’d printed off on his half-ton vintage letterpress, each attendee received a commemorative broadside printed by Ken Aldrich of Nomadic Press in Minneapolis imprinted with one of Kornblum’s own poems, “In Here,” as well as a copy of Awkward Song, a chapbook of Kornblum’s poetry; it originally was published in 1980 by Toothpaste Press, the progenitor to CHP, founded by Kornblum in Iowa City in 1973.