Snapshot: Malcolm Margolin, Founder, Heyday Books

Malcolm Margolin. Photos: Pete Rosos

By Frances Dinkelspiel and Pete Rosos

“Hierophantic,” was how the noted historian Kevin Starr described Malcolm Margolin, the publisher of  the Berkeley-based Heyday Books, in a 2004 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Manifesting sacred power, a power larger than life, a savant. There’s something rabbinical about him.”

When Berkeleyside approached Margolin about being featured in our “Snapshot” series, he was completely uninterested in answering our questions about himself (as you can see below) and effectively declined to do so. But don’t think that means Margolin doesn’t have any opinions. In fact, he has so many ideas and notions that any casual meeting with the man with the trademark white beard is often the occasion for a torrent of ideas.

Margolin has lived in Berkeley since 1970 when he moved from New York with his wife, Rina. He started Heyday in 1974 with the self-published The East Bay Out, a guide to the East Bay Regional Parks. The success of that book launched a company that has significantly contributed to the understanding of California.


Margolin’s own The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey-Bay Area shed light on an important part of the state’s history. The non-profit Heyday has published hundreds of other tomes that illuminate the state’s culture, history, ecology, literature and art.

At the center is Margolin, one of the Bay Area’s biggest champions of writers, journalists, artists, and illustrators.

Below is Margolin’s response to a request by Pete Rosos for a photo shoot and for his answers to the “Proust Questionnaire”-style questions we put to all our “Snapshot” interviewees:

Dear Pete:

Thanks for the reminder. I’ll be around, and the photo shoot sounds ok. But you’ll find me mute, surly, and uncooperative about the interview. The underlying problem is that I haven’t the vaguest idea how to answer the questions. I don’t think like that, Pete; I don’t seem to have developed the ability to give hierarchy to things. Where and when am I happiest? I have no idea; happiness seems to come and go mysteriously, a gift rather than something earned or in any way predictable. Which living person do I most admire? I have no idea. It never occurred to me to create a scale in which I measure my admiration from most to least. And so it goes. I feel these questions are artificial questions, developed in an attempt to make dull people look interesting and I have no desire (or more to the point no capacity) to deal with them at all. If these questions are essential to the project, why don’t I save us both some time and frustration and drop out now. It’s not that I’m unwilling to talk about my life and my values; I simply don’t know how to talk about things in the language you present.

Kindest regards,

Malcolm

Berkeleyside’s “Snapshot” column, inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, is an occasional series by Pete Rosos in which we take a moment to get to know some of Berkeley’s most interesting people. Rosos is a freelance photographer, husband, and father of two who lives in south Berkeley. Previous Snapshots: Urban Ore founder Dan KnappJessica Williams, owner of Brushstrokes StudioDoris Moskowitz, owner, Moe’s Books; and songwriter and writer David Berkeley. Let us know in the Comments who you would like to see featured here.