Malcolm Margolin: Publishing Hero of the Week

Because it’s Prospect Park’s tenth anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got here, and how my co-workers, authors, and I have navigated the many, many obstacles that make book publishing one of the most challenging businesses out there. Other than trial and error, I’ve learned almost everything from others who are smarter and more experienced than me. So as 2016 creeps toward a close, I am thanking the publishing heroes who have helped me get here—even if I’ve never met him or her. Here’s the third: Malcolm Margolin

Who He Is

malcolmmargolin_web200pxThe founder of Heyday Books in Berkeley, California. I knew all about (and was inspired by) Malcolm for years before I met him, when I attended the LA Library’s ALOUD event tied to the release of the biography The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin. Since then, we’ve had a few memorable encounters, both in person and via email. One email I’ll keep forever is the one he sent to cancel a lunch date we’d made for his upcoming trip to LA. He had to cancel the trip because he was recovering from a bad fall. He urged me not to feel sorry for him and his injuries: “Picking myself up, racing down the mountain in shirtsleeves as the temperature dropped precipitously, life-threatening possibilities of further injury and of hypothermia, wet and shivering, the trails often flowing shin-deep with water, the blurred images of wildflowers, the trees swaying wildly, resounding thunderclaps and dazzling lightning flashes—I don’t recall ever feeling so totally alive. It was, I don’t know how else to explain it, a couple of hours of pure ecstasy.”

That tells you all you need to know about Malcolm. He brought that same missionary joy, passion, and lyricism to Heyday, starting with the first book he wrote and typeset himself back in 1974 and continuing until his retirement last year. And even in retirement, he’s still an evangelist for books, California, and Heyday, and you can be sure he’ll be giving newly appointed publisher Steve Wasserman a lot of wise counsel.

What He’s Known For

A deep love for California, its natural places, and its native peoples; a passion for publishing books that reflected those passions; valuing people over money; and an awesome beard.

Three Things He Taught Me

1. Publish what you believe in. If you do a worthy job of producing a book that you believe in, chances are enough other people will share your enthusiasm.
2. Local is good. Prospect Park started out intensely local and has grown to be national and now international. But Malcolm helped remind me that my own backyard is still a mighty fine place to be, and we’re remembering to publish regional books again.
3. Be a partner. Your employees are partners, your freelancers are partners, and your authors are for damn sure partners. So are bookstores, sales reps, and any number of institutions. Malcolm, a self-proclaimed “old hippie,” put a huge value on community, and that’s a value we share at PPB.

One Book to Buy

The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco–Monterey Bay Area, by Malcolm Margolin

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