Copper Canyon Press Announces New Leadership

Copper Canyon Press has transitioned to new leadership. Co-Publishers George Knotek and Joseph Bednarik retired on May 1, 2024. Publicist Ryo Yamaguchi has been named the new Publisher, and current Finance & Operations Manager, Julie Johnson, assumes the role of Director of Finance & Operations. Michael Wiegers remains Executive Editor and adds the role of Artistic Director of the Press. 

The announcement follows careful succession planning and the organization’s Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations in 2023.

Copper Canyon Press is a nonprofit independent publisher dedicated to poetry. It is primarily based in Port Townsend, Washington, with a substantial number of staff based in locations across the United States. Copper Canyon has published over 400 titles, including works by Nobel Laureates such as Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz; Pulitzer Prize–winners such as Jorie Graham, Ted Kooser, W.S. Merwin, and Jericho Brown; National Book Award–winners such as Arthur Sze, Lucille Clifton, and Ruth Stone; and other notable poets and translators like Ocean Vuong, C.D. Wright, Lucia Perillo, Jim Harrison, and Red Pine.

“We are grateful for the many years that George and Joseph have invested at Copper Canyon,” said Anne Barker, chairperson of the Board of Directors. “Combined, they have forty-two years of experience at the Press. It’s that kind of organizational stability and dedicated leadership that has helped Copper Canyon become the most important poetry publisher in America.”

In his new role as Publisher, Ryo Yamaguchi will guide the Press’s strategic vision, including community collaboration, audience engagement, and donor development and partnerships. Yamaguchi has over ten years of experience in publishing. He formerly served as Copper Canyon Press’s Publicist, and he was also the Sales and Marketing Director at Wave Books, also an independent publisher of poetry. Before that, he worked for several years as Promotions Manager at the University of Chicago Press. He is also a poet—author of The Refusal of Suitors (Noemi Press) and with poems published widely, including The Best American Poets 2020—and he has worked extensively as a freelance book critic at outlets such as Harriet Books from the Poetry Foundation, the Boston Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among others.  

“This news is by turns big and perfectly ordinary, very sad and super exciting,” Yamaguchi said. “Anyone can tell you how hard it is to build an organization around the reading of books, especially poetry. I’m astonished at how well we’ve done it. The shift to remote work has allowed us to thoughtfully compose one of the most talented staffs in publishing. . . . We’ve built a cash reserve that enables us to weather vicissitudes in the marketplace and institutional giving. And, perhaps most important, we’ve continued to push our editorial vision to interact with and reflect the diverse and dynamic literary landscape as it truly exists, helping put numerous communities and generations of poets into conversation with one another.”

Knotek and Bednarik have served as Co-Publisher since 2014, and prior to that they were Development Director and Marketing Director respectively. They helped guide the organization through changes in the marketplace, efforts that included the implementation of an inclusivity framework, introduction of a new pressmark and logo, and managing the impacts and operational challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a dynamic sixteen years here at the Press,” said Knotek. “I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve our poets, and readers, and to advance the mission of Copper Canyon Press. I am proud of the work we have done together, and looking forward to watching the Press continue to thrive in the very capable hands of Ryo Yamaguchi and Julie Johnson, alongside Michael Wiegers. And now, to be honest, I am looking forward to having more time for reading.” 

“One of Copper Canyon’s superpowers is a crystal clear mission in support of poetry,” said Bednarik. “I‘ve loved playing a role in getting our books out into the world. I also really appreciated meeting poets and translators and readers—many of whom became dear friends. On the back of my business card I included a quote from Theordore Roethke, ‘What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.’ The Copper Canyon community is teeming with specialists in the impossible.”

Executive Editor Michael Wiegers, who will continue in his role guiding the artistic direction of the organization, expressed his gratitude for the contributions of his Co-Publisher colleagues: “I’ve had the great honor of working and learning alongside Joseph and George during some of the most transformative years of the Press. Under their leadership, the Press stabilized its operations, built a cash reserve, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and supported some of the best poets from across a diverse range of aesthetics, languages, and perspectives. They’ve given us great years at the Press, and paved the way for even better ones.”

In her new role as Director of Finance & Operations, Julie Johnson will oversee all fiscal operations of the Press, process royalties and subsidiary rights, serve as the human resources executive, manage the Press’s physical facilities, and steward the Press’s grant application and management activities. Johnson brings thirty years of experience in higher education and non-profit program management. She is the author of two novels, The Crows of Beara (Ashland Creek Press) and In Another Life (Sourcebooks), as well as numerous short stories and essays on writing craft. 

“This close-knit team has grown and matured with the vision and steady hands of George and Joseph, and as Copper Canyon Press moves into its next fifty years, we uplift the legacy of our first fifty to guide and inspire us, even as we seek new ways to engage with form and readership,” said Johnson.

“I’ve been reading Copper Canyon books since I was eighteen years old,” Yamaguchi said. “Simply being part of this organization is a dream come true, and I step into this leadership role backed by a half century of institutional wisdom advocating for the vitality of poetry in our lives. Founders Tree Swenson and Sam Hamill put into place a core set of values that put people and poems first. George and Joseph—along with other Press leaders and staff throughout the years—cemented that into place, and the organization now stands on an incredible foundation. With the extraordinary guidance from our experienced and engaged Board of Directors, and by the hard, smart work of our amazing staff, we are pushing into our next fifty years with vigor. We’ve got so much on the horizon—books from familiar voices, books from new voices; new partnerships, new formats, new focus. Lots of work to do. We are already doing it.”