What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I have no idea! This, luckily, is not something I have to pay attention to. The great gift of working for a nonprofit press is finding the audience for a book, not the book for an audience.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I have a special fondness for books about walking and books of cultural criticism (Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love), books about trees (I’m crazy about Katie Holten’s About Trees), books about water, books about collections and buildings (I love Valeria Luiselli’s essays in Sidewalks for this) and weirdos. But more than subject, I’m always looking for books where form is as much a way of working through an idea as plot, character, and voice. Which is probably why I love essays so much. An essay, at best, is a mind in action. It’s a form of productive circling, of assemblage, of making the odd angles visible. If reading doesn’t break your understanding of the world in some way, it’s not doing its job.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I am really not interested in what a friend calls “the pain-forward memoir.” Just because an event is important to you, or to the people who care about you, doesn’t make it important to a reader. It’s the thinking through and the writing that create meaning and value. The therapeutic value of a book is fine, but it’s not a claim to art. That said, I think “book” is an overly broad category, like “box”—it’s a delivery mechanism but not much of a description of what’s inside. So much of what happens in publishing doesn’t intersect with my use of and participation in it, and that’s fine with me.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Coffee House is really lucky to be based in Minneapolis. There’s so much publishing here (including Graywolf, Milkweed, and the University of Minnesota, among others) and so much funding for the arts that it creates a really generative climate and a culture that values expansive ideas about how people engage with art. That’s good for the kinds of books we publish, the well-being of the writers here, as well as initiatives like our In the Stacks program, which places artists in residencies and offers them a chance to experiment, to play. It seems unreasonable to ask artists to only be working toward the goal of publication (in the traditional sense), because so much of art-making doesn't achieve that and shouldn’t. And it is just as valuable as the work that does make its way out into the world. We also put a premium on the importance of documenting that experimentation, both online and in a public program. Doing so makes the work public (the meaning of “to publish”) but in a different, off-the-page way. And people need more openings into the creative process, to see work as it happens. If you have a window into ideas as they percolate and move from experience and reading and research into some more-organized form, you might have both a new respect for creative work as well as a new sense of the possibility for the creative in your own life.
Caroline Casey is the managing director at Coffee House Press, based in Minneapolis. She has a background in marketing, publicity, and acquisitions, including stints at Sarabande Books and Stanford University Press, and holds an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa.