When Noel Young launched Santa Barbara–based Capra Press in 1969 and began to publish a literary who’s who of writers that included Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Raymond Carver, Lawrence Durrell, and Ursula K. Le Guin it was a vibrant time for independent bookstores and small presses, the beginning of the golden era of the small press movement.
Young, who died in 2002 built a list of over 300 titles and a reputation not only for fine taste in literature but also for being one of the most endearing charmers in the publishing industry. In his last years, Young suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and the year before he died he sold the press to Robert Bason, an antiquarian book dealer. Bason sold the press’s remaining backlist inventory online and published 20 new titles under the Capra imprint for the next 10 years. The Capra Press archive and memorabilia were donated by the family to the Lilly Library in Indiana; the press’s printed works went to the special collections department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rights on each title reverted back to the authors, and it seemed that Noel Young’s legacy would be forgotten.
In 2010, however, Young’s eldest daughter, Hilary Young Brodey, and her husband Phil, along with their friends John and Diana Harrington, began to discuss the possibility of buying Capra back from Bason. “We talked about the major changes in publishing and the emergence of e-books, and the disappearance of independent bookstores,” said Brodey from her home in San Francisco. “We talked about my father’s vision with Capra Press, which was to keep the human touch as much as possible in the environment of mechanization and to retain the mantra of a small independent trade publisher.” In March 2011 the Brodeys and their friends acquired the Capra name, logo and “goodwill” from Bason and released their first title, I Never Expected This Good Life, poems and stories by Jennifer Futernick, in December, which will soon go into a second printing.
“Dad was a fine arts printer by day and pursued his dream of being a published author at night and on the weekends,” Brodey recalled. “Every property we lived on had a writer’s cabin close to the house where my father would work on his short stories and poetry. Henry Miller came to stay with us on the weekends, and as kids we were surrounded by different literary salons and groups of poets and writers in the house.”
In 1969 Young looked into his large box of rejection slips and decided to become a publisher. He sold his first few books by himself, going from bookstore to bookstore peddling them, but eventually Capra was distributed by Consortium. “Like my father in 1969 we have an unorthodox business model for this first edition of our first title,” Brodey said. “We are self-distributing I Never Expected This Good Life and pretty much going door-to-door selling to independent bookstores only. We now have it in 25 bookstores and continue marketing with author events. It was important with this first book to mirror what Capra did when it started, and take all the baby steps my father took. This has proven to be an invaluable crash course in small press publishing.” With the second printing of Futernick’s book, Capra will sign with Small Press Distributors in the Bay Area for national sales on all forthcoming titles.
Melissa Mytinger, event manager at San Francisco’s Booksmith, producer at Berkeley Arts & Letters, and a former Santa Barbara bookseller and publisher, remembers Young with fondness. “Noel conceived of, and took on, books that not only intrigued and begged for reading but books that were exceptionally well-designed and produced.”
With the re-launch of Capra Press, Brodey, who has no plans to publish digitally, is paying homage to her father and the world of “real books, artfully crafted books that one wants to hold and savor.” With the belief that there is still a market for such books and a place for independent bookstores that serve the communities they’re in, Capra will publish four or five books a year and honor the eclectic literary taste of its founder.