Allan Kornblum, 1949-2014

We are deeply saddened to announce that our founder, Allan Kornblum, passed away today. He is survived by his wife, Cinda, and their daughters Gwen and Annabel. 

A message from our publisher, Chris Fischbach, is below.

Allan Kornblum,1949-2014 

In 1972, Allan bought a letterpress for $35 at auction, put it in Anselm Hollo’s garage, and founded Toothpaste Press. By 1984, Toothpaste had relocated to Minnesota and become Coffee House Press. Today, we celebrate Allan’s  legacy: more than 400 books published, innumerable careers begun and nurtured, and every dog-eared page and underlined passage he brought to a reader.

Allan’s influence extended beyond the books he worked on—for forty-two years he championed new voices and new publishers and fought tirelessly to get them the attention they deserve. It was a lifetime of service not only to literature but also  to the field of publishing, of which he was a devoted scholar. Whether it was choosing just the right font, navigating the changing marketplace of bookselling, or understanding the historical pattern of the changes in printing technology, his wisdom and devotion were unmatched.

I worked for and with Allan for almost twenty years. He hired me first as a letterpress intern, guided me as an editor, and trained me to be a publisher. He was not only a mentor—he was a friend and a father figure, and I wouldn’t be who I am without him. I will miss him.

William Carlos Williams’s “The Descent” was a poem that meant a great deal to both of us. Cinda read it to Allan last night, and I’m remembering him in these lines today:

Memory is a kind
of accomplishment
a sort of renewal
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
inhabited by hordes
heretofore unrealized
of new kinds—
since their movements
are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).

There will be a public celebration of Allan’s life in the new year. We hope you’ll join us to remember him then.

To make a gift in Allan’s memory, click here.

23 Responses to Allan Kornblum, 1949-2014

  1. Michael Lundy says:

    Allan was a mentor in The University of Nebraska MFA Writing Program. I met him during a writer’s residency at The Lied Lodge in Nebraska City, NE. when he critiqued my writing. He aided me immensely by suggesting a project that I am currently working on. I was saddened to hear of his passing. Thank you to Allen.

  2. russell leong says:

    Allan championed Frank Chin, perhaps the best writer in all of Asian America. We are indebted to Allan and Coffeehouse for their vision and persistence early on to recognize the rebel, radical voices in our midst.

    Russell Leong

  3. diana harvey says:

    cinda, i just read of allan’s death. i truly feel so saddened. brad and i knew you two through the writer’s workshop 1971-73 . i was able to see and talk with anselm in boulder a number of years ago. i have wonderful memories of you and allan and your vegetable garden in westbranch. i remembering you reading “working” and loving it. again, i’m so sorry for your loss and wish you well. warmly, diana

  4. Lynn Strongn says:

    In honor of Allan Kornbum, YELING ABOUT YESUS.It is piece of fiction. Lesbian Novella was n early title. I ws nominated for the Pulitzer Prize n Literature five years go.

    Fond best,

    Lynn Strongn
    Poet and writer

  5. Nancy Wong says:

    Allan was generous and understanding even to writers who may have had disagreements with him about their work that they wanted to publish. He tried to reason with them and if they refused to be consoled, Allan still wished them well.

  6. Jack Marshall says:

    Allan was a poetry student of mine at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop,1969-71.I remember him standing, stamping his feet on a street corner in an Iowa City winter’s snowfall, hawking his original Toothpaste magazine for a quarter to buy a burger. Years later, at his suggestion, he became my publisher as well as a dear, generous, and (even when we differed),a loyal friend. Luck doesn’t cover it. I feel very fortunate to have known him, and will miss his great spirit.

  7. Jan Freeman says:

    Late last night, reading the email from CLMP, I learned that Allan died. I am devastated, and offer my deepest condolences to his family, to everyone at Coffee House, to his friends, and his Consortium friends and colleagues. After the nonprofit Paris Press was founded in 1995, Allan and Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press became my 2 publishing mentors. Paris Press would not have reached its 5 or 10 year mark without Allan’s and Sandy’s generous guidance. The Press certainly wouldn’t have neared 20. The world of publishing, as a publisher, can be an isolated place. Allan made me and feminist Paris Press feel part of the community. He shared information about printers, copyright, permissions, contracts, foreign rights, and working with writers, estates, and other presses. He was always available when I had a question. And I have had plenty over the years. Allan’s passion for letterpress printing has always, for me, reflected his essential love of literature and the sensual beauty of the printed word. How poignant today in this electronic publishing world and the world of printed books. Allan was an extraordinary role model. Thinking about him makes me want to simultaneously edit a manuscript, cook (!), and learn to set type. I am so grateful for his kindness and support, for his welcoming smile, conversation, and enthusiasm at sales conferences and at AWP. He left an indelible mark on Paris Press and on me. May he rest in peace, with the publishers and poets of all ages.

  8. Dan Campion says:

    Allan and Cinda welcomed JoAnn Castagna and me to Iowa City with such generosity and congeniality, when we moved here from Chicago with tentativeness in 1978, that we wondered what we’d been waiting for. JoAnn died last December 5. I have been thinking of all our years in IC, and I love revisiting a particular evening when Allan and Cinda had us over for dinner at their house in West Branch–the kugel and red wine were especially delectable–and David Duer was at work in the pressroom near the dining room–and poetry was on our lips and in the air we breathed. Thank you, old friends, for this highly renewable memory, and may the many such you bestowed on others nourish you abundantly. –Dan

  9. Paul B. says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I pray for Allan and offer my condolences to all who knew him and are saddened by his passing. No I did not know him nor he I, but I never forgot his kindness when he scooped me up at an Iowa City poetry reading and brought me along to a party at West Branch. Since then I regularly had my mind blown reading works he published, from GUM to great Coffee House titles. Thanks Allan.

  10. Nancy K. Bereano says:

    As the editor and publisher of Firebrand Books (1985-2000), a small, award-winning feminist and lesbian press, I greatly respected Allan’s commitment and the work he did. We lived in different worlds, but his literary passion and perseverance resonated with me. I offer my condolences to his family and colleagues, and to all the writers and readers whose world he helped make bigger.

  11. I met Allan when he first arrived in Iowa City in 1970. He brought New York with him, as well as the signature hairdo that became a permanent part of his image. He found a ready bunch of compatriots, and became a disciple of Anselm Hollo, at least to the extent that he adopted a permutation of Anselm’s laugh. He also listened carefully to what Ted Berrigan had to say. He became one of the founders of the Actualist movement, along with Darrell Gray, Dave Morrice, Chuck Miller, Morty Sklar, John Sjoberg, George Mattingly and others. Cinda was one of the founders, also, as was Joyce Holland, Dave Morrice’s alter-ego. It was the early 70’s; accordingly, there was a fair amount of spoofing and goofing, but also some wild imagination at work, that stretched the uptight boundaries of poetry. Cinda and Allan married and moved to West Branch, outside Iowa City, where Allan continued Toothpaste magazine and started Toothpaste Press. I remember visiting them one time in West Branch, and marveling at Allan’s energy level but wondering why in the hell he persisted in calling his press Toothpaste Press. Along the way, Kay Amert published one of Allen’s books of poetry, and three of my books—with Seamark Press. I moved to Montana, then South Carolina, then back to Iowa City. Allan and Cinda moved to the Twin Cities. And changed the name of the press.

    During these years I had been trying to find or find out about my old friend from graduate school, U Sam Oeur, a Cambodian poet, who finally emerged from the sinkhole of the Pol Pot tregedy. For about eight years after that, I sought a way to get Sam out of Cambodia. Finally, Clark Blaise, the director of Iowa’s International Writing Program, came to the rescue and secured funding to invite Sam as a fellow in the International Writing Program. And Sam has never left. His wife Syna ultimately came to join him, as did his son Jimmy. Sam, Syna and Jimmy are all US citizens, and Jimmy and his wife April have given Sam and Syna five lively grand-children. They live outside Dallas.

    After Sam arrived in Iowa City, we worked furiously to translate his poetry. More accurately, we began creating it from scratch—Sam arrived with about ten pages of cryptic notes on small, flimsy air mail stationery; the atmosphere in Cambodia had not been conducive for him to express his thoughts about freedom and democracy. We circulated the translations aggressively and they were published in a wide variety of magazines. Sam eventually moved temporarily to Minnesota, and I moved to Minnesota also. I’d been in touch with Allan about Sam’s work and eventually the three of us met to discuss the possibility of a bilingual edition of Sam’s poetry—a risky venture. Allan was very gracious and respectful of Sam during that first meeting and it was clear that Allan believed in the project. Allan said that we should follow this first book with a memoir. Consequently, we signed a two-book contract with Coffee House. The book of poems, Sacred Vows (150 pages), was published in 1998, and the memoir, Crossing Three Wildernesses (320 pages), in 2005. Allan took it upon himself to edit the memoir. Sam and I banged away on the text and I began sending chapters to Allan. He was a meticulous taskmaster, and the two of us didn’t always agree on where to take the story and how to shape it. I admit to being bull-headed during the process, and so was Allan—he had to be in order to keep Sam and me on task, and, yes, he did make some compromises. Both books were well-received and Sam was literally brought back from the dead. During Sam’s emergence, there were many angels who sustained him, but no one single person did as much as Allan to encourage and champion Sam and his work. After Sacred Vows was published, for example, Allan marched into the offices of The New York Times and plunked a copy of the book on the desk of Dinitia Smith. At the time, Sam and I were giving some readings in Washington, DC. Ms. Smith called us up the day after she’d read the book and flew to DC to interview Sam. Allan and Cinda even had Sam stay at their home for extended periods of time. It is the case that Allan gave Sam life and it is also the case that working with Sam became a turning point in my own life; I dedicated myself to completing these projects, and promoting Sam’s work. This moved me away from some of the navel-gazing poetry I’d been writing to a venture of much more consequence. In a way, then, Allan saved my life as well by presenting the opportunity for me to help bring Sam’s voice to life. Both of us will be forever in Allan’s debt.

    I will miss Allan’s wry humor, his laugh, his intelligence, his knowledge, his integrity, his judgment and his generosity. Since Allan’s passing, whenever I’ve come out with a questionable hypothesis I can see him peering over his glasses and raising his eyebrows at me. He was a good man, and a loyal friend and he leaves a huge vacuum in our world, literary and otherwise, but he has done an admirable job of ensuring that his legacy will be carried forward, at Coffee House, and in our hearts.

  12. Thanks for all the memorable work. RIP.

  13. elizabeth powell says:

    Sending my deepest condolences. Such a great and kind man. Such a huge loss for our world.

  14. rebecca says:

    hope the word gets out about the public celebration in plenty of time for folks to arrive from near and far…partly posting here to be sure i am on ” your” list!!! i write from iowa city…. so glad allan had the wisdom to give the press legs so it would walk on w/o him. so sad for the family and all of us friends. we need a cure for cll, not more drones, usa. do you hear that? 65 years young he was. a wonderful life, a gentle end, but a dis ease that needs a cure. love to all esp cinda annabelle gwen and coffee house press…. and allan. love is stronger than death, yes; love lives….

  15. Gigi Bradford says:

    Allan left a lasting legacy. I knew him first in Iowa with Toothpaste Press, then Coffee House, of course. He was a pioneer in the independent publishing movement. In my house I have four framed broadsides printed by Allan and in my heart many memories of authors championed, books read and good deeds performed. All of us were enriched by his life and are diminished by his loss.

  16. Gregg Rutter says:

    Saddened to hear this news. Allan’s generosity, kindness, and open heart is missed.

  17. Shelley (Sterling/Sklar) Rivers says:

    Two of Allan’s letterpress books are among my dearest possessions,one of them his chapbook. My life is richer for having known him, and I still miss the wonderful parties in West Branch.

  18. Jeffrey Scherer says:

    So the torch passes to Chris Fischbach at Coffee House Press.
    I am so sad today. From the days I met Alan when I designed the first MN Center for Book Arts (Jim Sitter selected him to be the resident printer); to my ProBono work making sure the early days of CHP were decently housed in nice offices; to my days as a Board member and early funder…I will forever be grateful to Alan for his awakening in me a love of the imprinted word on paper; great literature; and the importance of maintaining your personal unique POV. I remember sitting between Alan and Alan Ginsberg at an event (when Ginsberg was the author a CHP book as a fund raiser). Alan G leaned over to me and asked if I thought I could get one of the nice looking young male Macalester waiters to “accompany him.” Alan K said (he overhead this) “never mind him, he is always horny. Just have to keep him focused on his work.” Peace and in this case RIP means Rest In Publishing….Alan you will be missed dearly…

  19. Paul Lobo Portuges says:

    A true gentleman and a voice that will be sorely missed.

  20. Allan was a generous visionary and a hard worker. I was lucky to take a CLMP small press workshop with him years ago; I can truly say that what I learned from him was invaluable. We in the non-profit field owe much to him. I’m so sorry he’s gone.

  21. My heart goes out to all of you, Coffee House pressers, and to all of us who had the good fortune to catch Allan’s attention. He published my books for over a quarter of a century, was one of my dearest friends, still is. My hope is that he’s somewhere with Anselm Hollo looking at us earthlings with some wonder. I sure missed Anselm Hollo, and now the void is immense. Love to all, Andrei

  22. Oh I’m so sorry to hear it. I have books all over my shelves from his hand.
    Rebecca Loudon

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