Berkeley pinnacle books thrive in wake of Covid as 50th anniversary nears


By JL Odom

Tucked away on Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue, it’s an iconic establishment in its own right – an independent, not-for-profit publisher that has stood the test of time and the unique circumstances of the publishing industry’s challenges. and COVID-19. That fixture is Heyday Books, founded in 1974 and still going strong in 2022.

Climax editor Steve Wasserman comments, “There was no doubt that two years ago, at the start [of the pandemic], we, like most companies in the country, really suffered an initial setback, to say the least. … But over the past two years, we’ve had the strongest sales in the company’s nearly 50-year history. It turns out that the kinds of books we publish are really books that people want to own.”

Over his nearly five decades, Heyday has published over 250 titles; it currently publishes 18-20 titles a year – a mix of reprints and new releases. Most of the books in this regular publishing stream are non-fiction, and many focus on California, stemming from Heyday founder Malcolm Margolin’s fascination with the state’s landscape, native cultures, and history. .

Wasserman recounts Margolin’s first encounter in California: “When Malcolm came to these shores, looked over the Golden Gate and saw the sun begin to set, he said, ‘I don’t need to travel further away. I have reached the promised land.”

After driving across the country in a VW van and eventually settling in Berkeley, Margolin was inspired to learn more about where he lived – the environment, nature and indigenous communities, such as the Ohlone. Interest in learning more about California’s past in relation to its present later led Margolin to self-publish his own book, “The Ohlone Way”, as well as his creation of Heyday.

Wasserman notes, “Very quickly, Heyday began publishing books celebrating and advocating for nature and the environment. He had a special interest in the more than 100 tribes of California, and he was especially interested in how these peoples natives were resisting the effort to exterminate them and had sought ways to preserve their culture through resilience and survival tactics.”

Margolin retired in 2016 and is now Heyday’s Editor Emeritus; the publishing house is now co-led by Wasserman, who has served as publisher for six years, and Gayle Wattawa, managing director and editorial director.

Said Wattawa of Heyday, “I’ve been there for 18 years now. And I mean, I love it. … It’s just a really, really cool place with really cool people. We write books that you give the impression that the work has meaning.”

Heyday continues to publish California-focused work, with notable works such as Leanne Hinton’s books on California’s native languages, artist Tom Killion’s prints and notecards on Mount Tamalpais, guides to John Muir Laws’ nature theme on the Sierras and Obi Kaufmann’s best-selling California terrain atlases.

“The Coasts of California: A California Field Atlas” by Kaufmann, published April 2022, features watercolor illustrations and maps as well as detailed information about the coastline. This is the third in his series of field atlases; the fourth part, on the Californian deserts, is in progress.

Wasserman comments, “Each of these books is about 500 pages, several 100 drawings, all in color. … It’s just remarkable talent, and we were extremely happy to provide a home for this remarkable work.”

There’s also Heyday’s famous Berkeley Roundhouse program – celebrating its 10th anniversary – bringing attention to California Indian cultures and history through Heyday Books and the quarterly magazine News From Native California, in its 35th year. .

According to Wattawa, “The program has been wonderful – very well supported in the community, by the writers. And a California native [Terria Smith] runs the program.”

Heyday’s extensive catalog includes genres such as “Politics”, “Social Justice”, “African American Studies”, “Asian and Asian American Studies”, and “Latin Studies”. Notably, Heyday recently published “The Curanderx Toolkit: Reclaiming Ancestral Latinx Plant Medicine and Rituals for Healing” by Atava Garcia Swiecicki.

Wattawa explains, “It’s all about curanderismo and all those ancient urban infusions of Latinx heritage and healing and energy, and that’s really cool. It’s an area that we really want to do more with the writers. , Latinx thinkers and artists.”

Heyday’s published titles certainly have a slew of readers in California, but their popularity — and purchases — extend beyond the Golden State as well, thanks in large part to their nationwide distribution through Publishers Group West.

As Wasserman shares, “It’s one of the things I was keen to put in place because I always thought California was not just a physical place, but it was also a state of mind. … There is something widely known as the California Dream – a dream of emancipation and equity.And I thought the potential readership of Heyday’s books was far greater than the readers who find themselves live in the state of California. So now our books can be found in every bookstore nationwide, and even internationally.”

Wasserman and Wattawa look forward to celebrating Heyday’s 50th anniversary, as it means the opportunity to continue to build its catalog of publishers and further expand its readership. Fifty years is also a milestone for any organization, especially a publishing house.

Wasserman notes, “In this world, it’s very easy to kill things. It is very difficult to give birth to things, let alone institutions capable of surviving the challenges that arise over time and circumstances. And this is especially true for publishers as we live in an age where the art of reading and attention spans are under siege from all the distractions of the industrial infotainment industry.”

But there’s just something about a physical book, especially one in which the author and publisher have put a lot of time and effort, as well as careful attention, that continues to resonate. to readers.

As Wasserman assesses, “People can feel that the object in the hand is truly unparalleled pleasure. And it’s not just a mere transmission of information, but it’s the notion that in these pages we offer something resembling hope. This finds a real echo of enthusiasm among many readers, and certainly enough readers to support our staff to keep us in business. And in fact, not only to help us survive, but also to thrive.

For more information on upcoming releases and upcoming events from Heyday Books, visit

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.


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