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Obituaries

Noel Young, 79; Founded Independent Capra Press

July 04, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Noel Young, the founder of Santa Barbara-based Capra Press--a small, independent publishing house best known for publishing short works by famous authors such as Henry Miller and Anais Nin, as well as publishing the first book of fiction by short story master Raymond Carver--has died. He was 79.

Young died from complications of Alzheimer's disease May 31 at his home in Santa Barbara.

Young was a commercial printer who had been designing and printing books for Black Sparrow Press and other independent presses when he launched his own company in 1969 by publishing "Journey," a slim volume of poetry by his friend Gordon Grant.

Over the next three decades, Capra Press published about 300 fiction and nonfiction books by both well-known and unknown writers.

"He is, in my opinion, the most influential small publisher for avant-garde writers on the West Coast," said Robert Bason, a Santa Barbara antiquarian bookseller, who purchased Capra Press last year.

"I'm a book collector as well, and I had a nearly complete collection of all the books of Capra Press, both signed and unsigned, and that's what made me love them so much," said Bason, who describes Young's early, hand-press printed books as "exquisite little pieces of art."

Young began by publishing shorter works of well-known authors and later took risks by publishing the works of unknown writers.

He once described his initial concept of publishing this way: "Approach writers you admired, acquire book rights to their shorter and offbeat works and turn them into books."

He wrote to his old friend Henry Miller, who sent him three essays that became "On Turning Eighty," the first in a series of 41 chapbooks--small-format books ranging from 60 to 100 pages--written by different authors and published by Capra Press in the 1970s.

Young also turned to a fellow Santa Barbara resident, Kenneth Millar--better known as mystery writer Ross Macdonald--who provided Young with a couple of essays that had appeared in magazines years earlier.

Macdonald's "On Crime Writing" became one of Capra Press' best-known books and has been reprinted many times.

Ray Bradbury's two-essay "Zen & The Art of Writing" also became a best-selling Capra Press chapbook.

Among the other titles in the series are Lawrence Durrell's short story of a wild herb gatherer in France, "The Plant-Magic Man," and Nin's short story "Paris Revisited."

The chapbook series concluded in 1977 with the publication of an essay by Miller, "Mother, China and the World Beyond."

Young's friendship with Miller, which began in 1959 when he showed up at the author's home in Big Sur, also resulted in the publication of a handful of other Miller works, including the books "Henry Miller's Book of Friends," "Sextet" and "My Bike and Other Friends."

Capra Press also published about half a dozen works by Lawrence Clark Powell, the legendary UCLA librarian--mostly essays, but also a collection of short stories titled "Evening Redness."

In 1974, Young published Raymond Carver's first short story in book format, "Put Yourself in My Shoes." He later published a book of Carver's poetry, "At Night the Salmon Move," and "Fires," a combination of essays, poems and stories.

In the 1980s, Young published a series of so-called "back-to-back books," each of which featured work by a well-known writer and an unknown writer: The work of one author would be read with the book held one way. Flipping the book over would bring the work of the other author to the front, and the two sets of text would meet in the middle.

About half of Capra Press' books were nonfiction titles such as "How to Protect Your Heart from Your Doctor," "Yoga for the Young at Heart" and "Back Pain Relief."

"Noel had this great interest in doing things that he thought were going to influence people's lives and that represented sociological trends that were going on," Bason said.

Indeed, the book that launched the company financially was the best-selling "Hot Tubs: How to Build and Install and Enjoy Your Own," published in 1973 and written by Young under the pseudonym Leon Elder.

"That book earned more than all our literary books put together," Young told The Times in 1988.

It also enabled him to publish the kinds of books he wanted.

"He certainly was a long step up from a lot of the small private presses that existed at that time and still exist," said John Martin, founder of Black Sparrow Press in Santa Rosa.

"After all, he did publish Henry Miller extensively and Raymond Carver."

Young was born in San Francisco on Christmas Day, 1922. The son of a photographer, he studied journalism at Stanford University. After World War II started, he shipped out to the Philippines as a war correspondent.

After the war ended, Young, his first wife, Margaret, and their daughter Hilary were driving through Santa Barbara when their car ran into a ditch. A motorist stopped to help and offered his guest house while the family's car was being repaired

Young remained in Santa Barbara and in 1949 began his printing business.

The twice-married Young is survived by his companion Lisa Cabryl; three daughters, Hilary Brodey of San Francisco, Caitilin Babb of Healdsburg, Calif., and Molly Young of Portland; a son, Aaron Young of Santa Barbara; four grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.

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