As I write, Steve Wasserman is shoveling his stuff into boxes. At least I hope he is. Steve, who has been editor at large for Yale University Press, is coming home to California at last, and it can’t happen fast enough for us. “The call of Berkeley was very strong,” he said. “I am something of a native son. I have missed California like the amputee is said to miss the phantom limb.”
The occasion is indeed one for celebration. On July 1, he will become publisher and executive director of Heyday Books, an outfit that publishes books about … California. The publishing house is situated on University Avenue in Berkeley, and you can’t get more Berkeley than that. The cover photo for his Facebook page was quickly changed to show a panorama of Berkeley, with the university’s landmark campanile. Steve grew up and went to university in this city on the Bay.
I’ve written about Steve’s time as editor of the Los Angeles Times Book for nearly a decade, a golden age when it was the best book review section in the country, bar none. He always had an eye for the era; for what might be relevant, rather than immediate. He was always willing to take a chance, and trusted that boldness, innovation, and intelligence would find an audience. I was proud to be a part of it.
Those traits served him well as editor at large at Yale University Press, where he “brought luster and allure to the Yale list, acquiring important books by such figures as Greil Marcus, Michael Roth, Martha Hodes, David Thomson, and David Rieff, publishing them with flair and gusto,” said John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press. “He will continue to consult with YUP, particularly editing several key authors still to be published.”
During those years also, he was a principal architect for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, now the largest book festival in the country.
At Heyday, he replaces Malcolm Margolin, who founded the company in 1974. Margolin seems pleased about the appointment, as is everyone else: “I can’t imagine anyone with better professional skills, more depth and variety of experience, and a more impressive record of accomplishment and public service. He knows California and its many cultures with intimacy, associates easily with the best writers and deepest thinkers everywhere, and his ample playfulness and wit have always been at the service of a humane social vision.”
One area he will examine is Heyday’s current distribution model. While the press publishes numerous important and beautiful books about California every year, the books are only sold in California bookstores, although they are also available online. Heyday does not have a national distributor and Wasserman does not know yet if that is because people outside the state are not interested. California as a topic is often denigrated by the East Coast, he said. Wasserman hopes to enhance Heyday’s reputation and showcase its role in interpreting California.
Steve sounds more than ready to come home and take on the new fight: “It has long been the case that California has been regarded by people who don’t live there, particularly the dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanites, who are the most provincial people in the country, as a strange backwater. Very often things California are dismissed as regional, not of national interest. Of course, all of that is rubbish. I would like to publish books that while interesting Californians, have broader resonance.”
“We couldn’t be more excited about bringing him back to California,” said Stanford alumna Emmerich Anklam (class of ’15) on the Heyday staff. “To use a favorite phrase from Steve’s predecessor Malcolm Margolin, ‘What a joy!'”
And below (pardon the blurry video quality) – this is for you, Steve.