Just back from the Sierra Nevada and the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference, Malcolm Margolin, who founded Heyday Books in 1974, says he was rejuvenated by the "nourishing hunger" he witnessed there for a literary life. Margolin sits at ease in his Berkeley, Calif., office, in a former violin manufacturer's two-story cedar-shake building. Nothing is by accident here, as evidenced by Chiura Obata's artwork around the office, and by Heyday's books, which often depict the injustice of the Japanese-American internment during WWII and the beauty of Yosemite, two subjects central to Obata's work. Heyday has clearly staked its claim as a literary institution rooted in the historical and cultural life of California.
Yet even after Heyday became a nonprofit dedicated to California's heritage in 2002, Margolin admits the press has had an identity crisis. To that end, Heyday—which dropped "books" from its official name—recently completed a nine-month process of branding itself with the help of a grant from the Taproot Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that matches nonprofits with pro bono business consultants who work on institutional strengthening.
While Margolin immediately recognized the value of Taproot's grant, he's quick to credit Katherine Brumage and Susan Pi, Heyday's respective publishing partnerships and marketing and publicity directors, with making the rebranding happen.
An internal inventory during the branding process made it clear that Heyday's parts—the publishing company that produces 25 books a year; the foundation partnering with cultural institutions that include indigenous nations, Santa Clara University, and Yosemite National Park; and the cultural institution that hosts 200 annual events and museum exhibits—did not always meld into one identity.
"We had our first million-dollar year in 2009, moved to a larger building in 2008, expanded our list, and hired additional staff [now at 15], all within the last decade," says Pi. "However, because of this growth, there was a lot of confusion about who we were, what we did, and what we did best."
Says Brumage: "There was no coherent way to speak to our entire audience at once." During Taproot's intense self-analysis, she says, book buyers, customers, staff, board members, and countless others associated with Heyday were consulted in order to help the nonprofit refine its mission.
Heyday's newly created mission declares it to be "an independent, nonprofit publisher and unique cultural institution [that] promotes widespread awareness and celebration of California's many cultures, landscapes, and boundary-breaking ideas."
Heyday's list reflects this mission with titles that include its famous field guides as well as Take Me to the River: Stories Along the San Joaquin River; A California Bestiary by the Oakland Zoo's first writer-in-residence, Rebecca Solnit, illustrated by Mona Caron; and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement. Heyday's "into California" emphasis has not been lost on booksellers throughout the state.
"Heyday publishes such a wide range of things—from current events, history, local travel, and children's books," says Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. "And they publish such reliable books, too, that do not go out of print quickly." (Margolin's 1978 title, The Ohlone Way, is still one of its bestsellers, with more than 100,000 copies sold.)
Stauss notes that Heyday continues to be innovative in its publishing and praised its recently released Where There's a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California by Elaine Elison and Stan Yogi. "That's just dynamite," says Stauss, who recently did an event with some of the book's contributors for the Oakland Public Library.
Heyday publishes local history for locals, and when it started publishing children's books Stauss says she appreciated how it reached out to California members of the Association of Booksellers for Children for direct input. Its current list includes Heyday's first board book, Baby Yosemite, featuring pictures of baby animals by photographers who participated in a photo contest.
In defining its brand, Margolin says, the company discovered "what was already there." "We're as concerned about solvency and money as everyone else is, but it's a problem to be solved rather than a goal," he says. The major challenge in branding Heyday lay in converting what started as an "oddly personal enterprise," in its bearded founder's words, "and converting it into something that is solvent, but does not stink of institutionality."
Margolin and Heyday remain firmly Californian, where popular institutions —no matter how branded—are rarely saddled with a "conformist" identity.