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,


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.

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  • Elisabeth

    How Berkeley can you be?

  • Charles_Siegel

    Malcolm is also a very kind-hearted guy.  When I was moving into my current house, many years ago, I had a bunch of stuff piled up on the sidewalk to carry in.  Malcolm happened to be walking by, and even though I didn’t know him, he offered to help me carry things upstairs.  It was a remarkable act of generosity from a remarkable person.

  • Finally, someone who isn’t interested in their fifteen minutes of fame. 

  • Elizabeth

    Two years ago, Malcolm was one of the speakers at the annual February Berkeley Public Library Authors Dinner.  The evening had its own pace, rather quick and jazzy, with monitors placed around the room and sparkly decorations and, etc. When he began to speak, I noticed that suddenly it seemed as if  time was slowing down.  This was a relief in light of the fast pace of the evening.  I listened with rapt attention as he told us stories,  (Manifesting sacred power?  A resounding “yes”.)   I see him often, walking about town, and I feel better because of it.

  • Wonderful. His response to the questions are like poems, wise and beautiful.

  • Carol

    Now whoever thought “mute, surly, and uncooperative” could be so gloriously refreshing!!

  • Bruce Love

    That’s quite a critique.

  • Anonymous

    Pete’s B+W photo of Malcolm Margolin’s hands speaks far more eloquently than written words.


  • I’ve also met Mr. Margolin before, and found him to be as kind-hearted and fascinating as everyone else has indicated.

    He is a personification of what Berkeley strives – and often fails – to be.
    This city would be a much better place if there were more Malcolms in it.

  • Tom Miller

    If you want to get to know Malcolm, read (or re-read) The Ohlone Way and consider how Heyday, which he founded as an alternative to finding a job, is so much more than a publishing house.

  • Bruce D

    I managed a bookstore down the street from Malcolm’s office back in 1982. Malcom put up a window display in our store of his books and some Props of Native artifacts or crafts, with a prominent display inside the store.
    Books sold of course because people have interests in California and the enviroment and native history and the environment or we just looking for something they hadn’t thought about before and the books sparked something in them.

    Malcolm was generally calm and if he was ever ‘surly’ as he says it seemed quite subdued and nothing much more than a grunt.

    We spent some recreational time in the poolhall and chatting and having a beer. It was a pleasant acquaintaince and i wish I slowed down a bit more and calmed the rush and was a bit more thoughtful of it perhaps. But I think
    Malcolm perhaps just takes some interest in where he lives and what’s been done and puts some helpful, fun and interesting books out there, as wellas his own.

    I am glad her persists.

  • SarahC

    I agree with Malcolm. The questions you pose in these interviews are silly.  You find interesting Berkeley people — why not ask them interesting questions, or at least give them an opportunity to tell us about the interesting things they have done?  No one cares what their favorite color is.

  • Matthew Kelleher

    Malcom is a living treasure and good friend.  He does the most extraordinary things with the greatest ease; offending no one; inspiring all.  We used to go on “Worry Walks” around the neighborhood; setting aside special time to worry about certain things (like money).  The end result, was a refreshing lack of constant anxiety, about the subject of our walks. His casting off of frivolous questions belies a truth of speaking that is refreshingly honest and rare.  My question to him is: “What can we do to make sure you keep doing what your doing ?”  Heyday deserves all of our support.  I am blessed to call him friend.  

  • Lindsey J

    Malcolm’s son Reuben Margolin is also worthy of being interviewed for Berkeleyside. He’s a math genius artist type and also very humble about his accomplishments. His wave sculptures are magical and mesmerizing. See videos of his waves pieces here:

  • Kellyquinncash

    Give Malcolm some more questions to not answer!!! This is great!