California boasts dozens of staunchly independent publishers. Among them are a handful of presses particularly notable for such qualities as unique focus, well-known writers, devotion to artistic detail or especially rapid rise to prominence.
Santa Barbara-based Capra Press was founded in 1969 by Noel Young, a designer and printer of books, who began publishing shorter works of famous authors, including Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell and Colin Wilson. The book that launched the firm financially, however, was a 1973 best seller by Leon Elder (the publisher's pseudonym), "Hot Tubs: How to Build and Install and Enjoy Your Own."
"That book earned more than all our literary books put together," says Young.
In recent years, Capra has published books on birding as well as shorter works from such writers as Thomas Sanchez, Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury and Herbert Gold. The firm publishes about 14 titles each year and has 120 in print. Its biggest seller currently is Tony Mendoza's "Ernie," a photographic book on cats.
JEREMY P. TARCHER
Founded in the mid-1960s by former television producer Jeremy Tarcher, the company was first noted for teaming celebrities with authors to produce such best sellers as Johnny Carson's "Happiness Is a Dry Martini," and Phyllis Diller's "Housekeeping Hints."
A decade later, the house had found its current direction: books on human consciousness. It published Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," Marilyn Ferguson's "The Aquarian Conspiracy" and more recently, Robin Norwood's "Women Who Love Too Much." Based in Los Angeles, Tarcher publishes about 40 books each year and has about 130 titles in print.
SUN & MOON PRESS
Offspring of the literary journal Sun & Moon, Sun & Moon Press was created in 1980 by former Temple University literature professor Douglas Messerli. One of the house's first publications was Djuna Barnes' collection of short stories, "Smoke and Other Early Stories," which, says Messerli, received favorable critical review "and we were put on the scene with that book."
Specializing in contemporary American fiction, Sun & Moon also published Paul Auster's "New York" trilogy: "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room." The Los Angeles firm, which moved from Washington D.C. in 1985, produces about 20 books each year and has 100 titles in print. Sun & Moon received Publisher's Weekly's 1987 Carey-Thomas Award for creative publishing in the United States.
NORTH POINT PRESS
North Point Press was started in 1980 by Northern California real estate developer William Turnbull and antiquarian book dealer Jack Shoemaker. Located in a converted church in Berkeley, the house is best known for its literary endeavors, though lately, it has added cookbooks to its list.
North Point's best-selling publications are Evan S. Connell's "Son of the Morning Star," a book on Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, which received the 1985 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history, and "West With the Night," Beryl Markham's autobiography, which was the subject of a PBS documentary. The publisher has more than 200 books in print and produced 35 books in 1988.
BLACK SPARROW PRESS
Black Sparrow Press, known for publishing the works of Charles Bukowski and John Fante, was founded in 1966 in Los Angeles by John Martin, a former manager for an office furnishings and supplies firm.
In 1975, the house moved to Santa Barbara and, in 1985, to Santa Rosa. All of Bukowski's books, including "Ham on Rye" and "Women," have been published by Black Sparrow (the author's life was the subject of the recent film, "Barfly"). The company has published nine books by the late L.A. screenwriter John Fante and, according to Martin, five of those books are currently being made into films. Black Sparrow has 200 books in print and publishes about 15 titles each year.
TWELVETREES PRESS and TWIN PALMS PUBLISHERS
Twelvetrees Press, based in Pasadena, and Twin Palms Publishers, in Altadena, both produce high quality art books. Twelvetrees was founded in 1980 by Jack Woody--former director of L.A.'s Nicholas Wilder Gallery--when he published "George Platt Lynes: Photographs 1931-1955."
"At the time I'd just been interested in doing that particular book and the New York Times picked it as one of the best books of the year and it just sort of turned into a press," Woody says.
Twelvetrees produces about five books each year and currently has 40 in print, among them "Out of the Sixties," a collection of photographs by director/actor Dennis Hopper; "October," a collection of Christopher Isherwood's journal entries and Don Bachardy's portrait drawings from October 1979; and "Photographs," a collection of photographs and commentary by Allen Ginsburg.
Twin Palms Publishers, which distributes Twelvetrees' books and produces high-quality art books on its own, was founded in 1987 by Thomas Long, former Twelvetrees sales manager. The house has four books in print, three of which were published this year. It is best known for "Herb Ritts: Pictures," featuring photographs of pop celebrities.