After a national search for a new executive director and publisher, the Coffee House Press board of directors announced this morning that they found who they were looking for close to home by hiring Anitra Budd. Budd's affiliation with the Minneapolis nonprofit literary press began more than 20 years ago, when she interned there while still an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota.
After serving as a board member from 2003 to 2007 while working at General Mills, Budd worked as CHP’s managing and acquiring editor from 2009-2014. She subsequently re-joined the board in 2020 and resigned from it this past month—though she stopped attending meetings and participating in board activities in March, once she decided to apply for the position. She will assume her new responsibilities on October 1.
Budd, 42, succeeds Chris Fischbach, who unexpectedly parted ways with the press in November after almost 10 years at the helm. Budd will be the first woman and first BIPOC to head CHP, which was founded in 1984 by Allan Kornblum, who eased into retirement in 2011 and died in 2014. Managing director Carla Valadez and editorial director Erika Stevens, who have led the press since Fischbach’s departure, will continue in their positions, reporting to Budd. The press employs 10 people in its offices in northeast Minneapolis.
In a release, Carol Mack, CHP's board president, stated: “I speak for the entire board when I say that Anitra embodies all the skills we were seeking as well as the values we hold most dear. She is exceptionally well-qualified, steeped in the history and mission of the press yet poised to lead the organization into the future with creativity and a passion for independent publishing.”
During the five years Budd served as CHP’s managing and acquiring editor, she streamlined press operations while shepherding through the publishing process such critically-acclaimed works as Anne Waldman’s The Iovis Trilogy, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Anime Wong, and Ron Padgett’s Collected Poems. Since leaving CHP in 2014, Budd has worked as a communications consultant, educator, writer, and freelance editor. Her clients have included CHP, Graywolf Press, and New Directions Press, as well as many clients beyond the publishing industry.
Besides serving on CHP’s board, Budd has served on the board of the Quatrefoil Library, an LGBTQ community center in Minneapolis, as well as the advisory boards of Revolver literary magazine and the Normal School Nonfiction Series. She also has taught editing for the past five years at Sierra Nevada University’s low-residency MFA program, and has taught undergraduate publishing courses at the University of Minnesota and at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Budd Envisions Community and Collaboration
In an interview with PW, Budd said that whatever concerns she had about applying for the job were overcome by numerous people who urged her to apply for the position. "I have the right set of skills and the right experiences," Budd said. "This is the moment when the press needs someone with communication skills—I’ve got that. Experience in different areas of publishing and bookselling—I’ve got that. Marketing background, relationship-building skills—all of those pieces—it all came together. I’m glad I was convinced to apply.”
Expressing her commitment to building upon both Kornblum and Fischbach’s legacies while also moving forward with her own vision for the press, Budd’s priority is “to get more readers who are so into our frontlist aware of and equally excited about our backlist” of about 500 titles. She hopes that developing a stronger revenue stream from its backlist will enable the press “to take more risks with programs, with new merchandising initiatives, and also on frontlist. I see it all hopefully working together and seeding each other.”
Community-building, Budd emphasized, will be another of her primary objectives. Besides maintaining the CHP in the Stacks program and the Coffee House Writers Project, Budd wants to create “a sense of community and camaraderie among authors" that would be similar to the alumnae association of a college or university. “After your book comes out, you are still part of something,” she said. “That’s the bigger vision I want for our authors: that they feel like they’re part of something together and that they can rely upon each other.”
Budd is also committed to building community internally among staff by spotlighting their contributions externally. “One of the big changes I’d love to see for us is to open up our staff more to the world—to allow our readers, our donors, and our stakeholders to know that it’s not just one person publishing, it’s a team effort,” she said. “It’s a big tent we have here. So much bigger than one person.”
CHP is gearing up for what the press describes as a “busy and exciting” 2022. Besides preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kornblum’s entry into book publishing in 1972 with the launch of CHP’s antecedent, Toothpaste Press, CHP will release Saeed Jones’s sophomore poetry collection, Alive at the End of the World; former PW Midwest correspondent Brad Zellar’s novel Til the Wheels Fall; Ecuadorian writer Mónica Ojeda’s U.S. debut, Jawbone; and what perhaps may be Budd’s personal favorite, Gabrielle Civil’s performance memoir, the déjà vu: black dreams & black time.
“It’s a book I consider quintessentially Coffee House in that it doesn’t fit neatly into any box,” Budd said. “Readers interested in exploring and exploding ideas of Blackness, performance, creativity, ritual, and loss will love this book.”