City Lights' Katzenberger: 'People Are Genuinely Invested'

Elaine Katzenberger, publisher and executive director of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, reflected on the company's past, present and future in a q&a with David L. Ulin for Alta. Among our favorite exchanges:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti recently turned 100. That's quite a milestone.
We had a big celebration for Lawrence. So many people flooded North Beach. The joy and love--and, of course, that Lawrence would be alive, and everybody would get to share that and be thankful for it, how much better this was than a memorial. But if it was a celebration of Lawrence, it was also a celebration of City Lights and the fact that people are genuinely invested in its continued existence--and the whole project of it, not just the bookstore but the publishing house.

How has that project evolved over the years?
The raw material of this place is still hugely potent. In part, that has to do with our legacy. Sometimes it means publishing something new about the Beat era or resurrecting a writer--an example would be Lew Welch. But there are also plenty of contemporary voices that need air and space, and that's what we have to offer here.

What's the biggest challenge City Lights is facing?
I hate to say the A word--Amazon--but the landscape of how people buy books only gets more challenging all the time. That has a huge impact on our ability to keep going. The other thing, the obvious thing, is that publishing is still a New York business. There's a lot of clubbiness we're not part of. That can be freeing, but it also determines what gets attention. I'm not playing around here--the books I'm doing, I really believe in them. I want my authors to benefit. I want them to win those prizes and get those reviews and all the attention that should be theirs.

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