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Portland publisher creates a niche with a handful of books

by: COURTESY OF TIN HOUSE - The successful Tin House publishing and magazine company operates out of ... a tin house at 2601 N.W. Thurman St.Tin House is an Oregon literary institution. Named after the tin house where the office is located at 2601 N.W. Thurman St., the company was founded in 1999 by Win McCormack.

The magazine is consistently one of the top literary magazines in the country, offering works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and interviews as well as columns on food and drink and a literary crossword puzzle. Tin House has published works by emerging authors as well as giants in the field of literature such as Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, Sherman Alexie and Richard Ford.

The company has grown and expanded from a simple literary magazine. Tin House now has a book publishing division as well as author workshops.

The Portland Tribune caught up with Cheston Knapp, the managing editor of Tin House (tinhouse.com), to talk about the branches of the company, how Tin House has been able to continue to be successful in the face of a new age of literary readership and what he sees in Tin House’s future:

Portland Tribune: What has made Tin House such an enduring literary magazine that has survived the test of time and the new age of how people read literature?

Cheston Knapp: Practically speaking it’s been because of the support of our publisher, Win McCormack. On a certain level we are all here because of him. When the magazine came out, they wanted to create a magazine that you would pick up that had a glossy feel and had names that you would recognize alongside emerging writers. We always wanted it to be of the highest literary quality.

Tribune: Who are some of your favorite authors whose stories have appeared in Tin House?

Knapp: The first issue had a piece by David Foster Wallace called “On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, The Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs A Boon.” So the magazine kind of came out firing. We’ve also been able to work with people like Jim Shepard and Andrea Barrett, Karen Russell and people of that caliber.

Tribune: How did Tin House’s book division get started and how successful has it been?

Knapp: The book division started as an imprint of another press in 2005. Two years after that, the division went out on its own. We started publishing a handful of books a year and now we’re on to about a dozen a year. It sort of grew organically of what we had been doing with the magazine. We tried to pick up people’s first books. Publishing is not an easy industry to break into. We looked to continue our niche of finding work that was exciting to us.

Tribune: How have Tin House’s workshops helped aspiring writers?

Knapp: The workshop has been a tremendous success. Maybe across the board our best success. We’ve worked really hard to create a community for writers. Part of the goal from the beginning has been to build a literary community for emerging writers and established writers. The workshop brings in writers and they teach classes. It’s been incredibly successful in that way. The environment has really inspired a lot of writers.

Tribune: What do you see in the future for Tin House?

Knapp: I hope that each arm of Tin House — the magazine, the workshops, the books — can continue enjoying a level of success, not just financially, but reputation-wise. We seem to be getting more attention across the board than we ever have. Each year it seems to be getting better. What I hope for the future is more of the same. I hope we’re able to continue to publish new and exciting writers and get to work with folks who are on top of their game. That makes for a successful mix.

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