Bookmark: Meet Coffee House Press’ new editor, Anitra Budd

Big news from the editor of Minneapolis Coffee House Press: Anitra Budd – writer, editor, mentor, teacher – has been named the new editor. We caught up with her for a few questions.

Q: You spent five years (2009-14) at Coffee House as Acquisitions Editor. What made you want to come back?

A: Over the past 18 months, I realized that I wanted to have a bigger impact on the world. I’ve experienced the publishing world from many different angles, but I’ve never had a role where I could bring all of those perspectives to bear at the same time. And having the chance to lead this particular staff – who have acquired National Book Award winners, been shortlisted for translation awards, and more – was an irresistible draw.

Q: You will be the third editor in Coffee House’s 50-year history and the first woman, as well as the first person of color, to run the show. How do you see this affecting the work of Coffee House?

A: I’m very lucky in that women on staff are already changing the way CHP acquires books. Editor Erika Stevens and Managing Director Carla Valadez have instituted formal acquisition meetings, which is a much more collaborative model than we had before.

Increased collaboration is probably one change you’ll see – I’m a big proponent of the power of teams and collective genius. But overall, I’m not thinking so much about making changes right now as “How can I build on, and then spread, what Coffee House is already doing well?”

Q: The slogan on the Coffee House t-shirts is “Experimental Books on Death”. It’s sort of reputation – tough, dark novels and collections of essays and poetry. Is that how you see Coffee House books?

A: I see this slogan in a totally different way. Take the word “experimental”. For me, experimentation means constantly posing and testing hypotheses and encouraging new ways of thinking, even when it’s uncomfortable or scary. And then there is death, which can mean much more than the literal loss of life: transformation, renewal, gates between planes of existence. So I read this tagline and thought, “Gracious, transformative investigation? To me, it looks like Coffee House!

Q: You have a bachelor’s degree in Latin. Tell us about that.

A: I started taking Latin in eighth grade mainly because my friends were taking French and Spanish, and God forbid. But I enjoyed it – its visual nature, the puzzle of declensions, cases and moods. By the time I transferred to the University of Minnesota from Carleton College, I had taken so many Latin classes that I had almost completed the major requirements.

At that time, my girlfriend-turned-wife and I were paying for our tuition with loans and credit cards, so paying to start a more career-focused major didn’t make sense. The choice was made: I was going to get a BA in Latin.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of Coffee House Press? (And does anyone still make those lovely hand boards that Allan Kornblum used to make?)

A: I hope that one day all of our stakeholders – staff, board, authors, donors, readers – will see Coffee House as a place where everyone can take part in this noisy experimentation and transformation that I have already spoken about.

As for broadsides, with our 50th anniversary approaching next year, I’m very interested in re-engaging that part of our history. I have five CHP posters hanging around my house, so they are never far from my mind.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s editor for books.