Chris Fischbach, who climbed the ranks at Coffee House Press from intern to publisher over the course of 25 years, is no longer associated with the venerable Minneapolis literary nonprofit press as of yesterday.
In a letter sent to some – though not all – Coffee House authors on Monday evening, Carla Valadez, CHP managing editor and director of operations, announced that Fischbach had left the press after 25 years “building on the foundation that Allan Kornblum created,” in 1984. The letter added that the press’s 21-member board of directors had appointed Valadez interim managing director. Senior editor Erika Stevens was appointed at the same time interim editorial director. No further details were provided in the letter regarding Fischbach’s departure, which one source closely affiliated for many years with the press told PW was initiated by the board, adding that the move was "totally out of the blue."
In a telephone call with PW this morning, board president Carol Mack, a retired attorney in St. Paul, insisted that Fischbach was not fired, but she declined to discuss why Fischbach left CHP and also refused to disclose whether or not the board had initiated the termination of Fischbach's tenure as publisher.
"We have parted ways after many years of great collaboration," Mack said. "He was a great asset to the press and we wish him all the best. Our mission stays the same. Our values stay the same. We are committed to our authors and to putting out literature that the world needs."
In her letter, Valadez said the board will begin a nationwide search "to find the right publisher for the organization’s next phase." Mack said that she would prefer that the search would begin "sooner than later."
While Valadez attempted to soothe the authors by writing that “the entire Coffee House team will continue to give you our best during this interim period, and we will be here to support you during the transition to a new publisher,” one CHP author who did receive the letter and another who had not both expressed shock regarding this turn of events. Fischbach, who started working for Coffee House in December 1994 as a letterpress intern, was hired in 1995 as an editorial assistant. After serving in various editorial positions, Fischbach was named associate publisher in 2009 as Kornblum, who was battling leukemia at the time, phased into retirement. Fischbach became publisher in 2011 and nurtured such critically acclaimed authors as Ben Lerner and Valeria Luiselli.
As publisher, Fischbach initiated various projects to expand the relationship between readers and writers, such as the Books in Action program, a series of interdisciplinary collaborations with artists. He also spearheaded the CHP in the Stacks initiative of library residencies for writers and artists.
This morning, Fischbach sent PW the following statement: "I’ve been at Coffee House Press for 25 years, first starting as an intern and working my way up to the head of the organization for the past nine years. It is time for me to step down as Publisher. I'm extremely proud of the work I have accomplished at Coffee House Press. I have developed incredible relationships here and look forward to the next new and exciting chapter in my career and life where I can leverage my prior experience, skills, and success to a new opportunity."
This story has been updated with further information.