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Press Taps Into Heart, Spirit of California


Any accurate inventory of California's cultural treasures would have to include Heyday Books, which is precisely what a first-water regional press ought to be--and so few are.

Since publisher and editor Malcolm Margolin founded Heyday in 1974, the Berkeley-based press has issued a stream of high-quality volumes on California's natural and cultural history, its contemporary and historic literature and poetry. Books on the state's Native Americans are one of the press' particular strengths.

Margolin is the author of "The Ohlone Way," a reconstruction of the period before European contact, when the San Francisco Bay Area was home to what may have been the densest Indian population in North America. Heyday has been a pioneer in making available to general audiences the oral literature of California's 100 or more Indian peoples. Over the years, Margolin has published a compendium of Maidu myths and tales and dual language editions of the Wintu and Karuk people's oral literature. Encouraging the preservation of such languages is one of the publisher's preoccupations, a goal it furthers through the nonprofit quarterly magazine News from Native California.

Southern Californians stopping by the Casino Morongo on their way to Palm Springs might be surprised to discover that their Native American hosts possess an ancient and still vigorous language, spirituality and culture, all of which are explored in "The Heart Is Fire: The World of the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California," published by Heyday last year.

Margolin's latest enthusiasm is an ambitious new imprint devoted to California's Central Valley, an endeavor underwritten in large part by a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Irvine Foundation. "We're not going to be doing a three-volume history of Lodi," he quipped, "because the Central Valley is an amazing literary area with its own world-class writers, photographers and artists. I think there are more poets per capita in Fresno than anywhere else in the world."

The Central Valley imprint's first titles will include a collection of architectural designer David Wilson's photographs of abandoned industrial and agricultural buildings. The work, says Margolin, "has all the real mysteriousness of a genuine artist at work. I realized how powerful it is when I drove from Berkeley to Fresno and discovered David had changed my way of looking at these structures. That's what art can do for a place."

Other volumes will include a collection of site-specific works and photos suggested by poet and farmer David Mas Masumoto. It will include his work and that of 19 other Central Valley writers. There will be a "powerful" first novel, "Blood Vine" by Aris Janigian, and the collected poems of Tulare poet laureate Wilma McDaniel. "She was a part of the Okie migration into California," said Margolin "and has been writing poems for 75 years or so. They are poems of deep experience told in a quirky, salt-of-the-Earth outsider's voice."

Margolin's discussions with the Irvine Foundation spurred him to begin thinking about succession. "The Irvine people were understandably interested in the future of a press that is so dependent on my good health, sanity and sobriety," said Margolin, who is 61. "The truth is that I started out as a one-man band and Heyday has become a three-ring circus. I used to store our inventory in our house. Our kids slept on the unsold books and, as they went, the kids slept closer and closer to the floor. That was our tracking system."

Margolin is in the process of turning Heyday into a nonprofit and, he said, "giving more of its work over to other people. I've been taking long vacations and firing myself from a lot of jobs."

Work in Progress

Ann Beattie is the author of numerous novels and short-story collections: "Over the past few weeks, I finally got around to revising a story I wrote in August of 2000, when I was taking care of my husband, who had just had his tonsils out at age 50, and I was setting the alarm to get up and give Vicodin at two-hour intervals. I've also just finished a six-page short story, which is the shortest thing I've written in a long while.

"I've recently returned to teaching and I'm doing a lot of reading on the American short story for the two classes on that topic I'll be doing at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in the fall. As I've conceived the course, the stories are arranged by category, so the students may read a particular author just once or several times. The categories are arranged by physical objects; there are refrigerator stories and car stories, for example. Obviously, this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it also allows my students to approach this work without reference to the symbols and other academic preoccupations that turn so many of them off. It also allows them to learn some real things about American culture--and they begin to learn the role of specificity in literature.

"Arranging stories in these categories and thinking about them in this way has reinvigorated my own feeling about American short fiction. Besides, when else do I get a chance to talk about short stories for two hours a week?"

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