This is a series of ongoing interviews with women actively engaged with small-press publishing between the 1950s and 1980s. It comes from a desire not only to preserve their accounts but also to draw wider attention to the vital role of women editors and publishers in the mimeograph revolution and beyond. In these decades “poems were bouncing off the sidewalk” (Maureen Owen), and this series traces some of those madcap trajectories. This conversation was conducted from December 2013 to May 2014 via email, while Joanne Kyger was in Oaxaca and away from the Hearsay archives
Stephanie Anderson: How did the Bolinas Hearsay News begin? Were you involved in its founding?
Joanne Kyger: Before the Bolinas Hearsay News started publication in 1974, there were three small irregularly published papers, The Bolinas Hit—Bill Beckman publisher—Beaulines, and The Paper.
I remember the first copies of the Hearsay being written on paper plates down at Scowley’s, one of the two local eateries. Greg Hewlett had organized fund raisers earlier to buy the town a press. Through spaghetti dinners and donations a multilith was purchased and housed in a garage on the mesa. It was later moved to Mickey Cummings’ house a few blocks away and he was the first official printer of the “Mesa Press.” Bill Berkson published some of his early Big Sky books on it. While still housed there, the first Hearsays came out. They would often be collated downtown at Scowley’s, and then distributed locally, as they are now, at three or four downtown businesses, and in a mailbox outside the Hearsay Office.
The Hearsay was offered a space in the building behind the Bolinas Public Utilities Office in the middle 70’s and remains there to this day.
I helped the Wednesday editor, Nancy Whitefield, with the paper for several years before it moved to the BCPUD office, when it was at Bill Johnson’s house. He was a talented and playful graphic artist and, the mornings were long with coffee, brandy, and long pauses for inspiration when no articles were handed in. But the paper was always delivered to the printer by noon. A calendar of events is still the main front page feature, with birthdays listed in another column. It was a way for the town to find out what was going on, and remains a mainstay of information about musical events, happenings at the Community Center, meetings etc.
I became the Wednesday editor on my own in 1984, and usually asked someone to be an ‘assistant’ editor in order to bring other elements of news and events into the paper. Bolinas is an unincorporated town, but we have three elected bodies that represent us to the county: the Bolinas-Stinson School, the Fire Department, and the Bolinas Public Utilities District – the latter acts as a public forum for any issues that concern the town, which are brought up at the beginning of its monthly meetings. The Hearsay published all the minutes for these meetings, plus those of the Bolinas Community Center, which owns the main building downtown where different town events take place.
All articles accepted by the Hearsay, which are dropped off during the mornings when the paper is laid out or dropped in the mail slot in the door, must be signed. I think that is the only editorial requirement.
SA: Could you say more about the genre of the Hearsay News? It seems a bit like a free-for-all, in terms of content. What distinguished it from the three small papers published before it?
JK: The fact that it was reliably published three times a week and had a calendar of events.
SA: Sometimes it’s difficult—or impossible—to find a “masthead,” then or now, for the Hearsay News. Was anonymity something prized, or did the community simply know everyone involved in production?
JK: Mastheads were various; editors could use whatever they wanted, as long as they remembered to notate the date and day of the week.
SA: One thing that strikes me in the first issues of the Hearsay from 1974 is the little pieces of art and poetry (including a Hearsay limerick contest!) tucked away among the lost and found notices, etc. Were those items filler, or were they meant to have the same import as more “practical” news? Did the Hearsay News ever publish items by those visiting (or residing) poets and artists?
JK: The Hearsay editors could publish anything they wanted to fill up the paper. I always liked using poems from visiting poets. The graphics often came from visitors also. When I was editor I relied on Donald Guravich frequently for drawings and covers. The copy machine we used as a vital part of our layout design could reduce or enlarge drawings. Local pieces from contributors came first before reprints of other articles, even though they were about Bolinas. All this was laid out during morning office hours 9-12, and then the printer came in and ran off the copies and took them downtown by at least 3 or 4 that afternoon.
SA: When you say “Local pieces from contributors came first before reprints of other articles, even though they were about Bolinas,” does that mean that work by residents always came first, regardless of content? What kind of reprints would you consider?
JK: Articles about Bolinas printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, magazines, other newspapers etc. There were always lots of pieces about Bolinas tearing down the road sign on Highway One that said with an arrow BOLINAS 2. Like it was a town that never wanted to be found by the causal driver, tourist. They made local bumper stickers that said BOLINAS 2 and people would drive all over California with them. It actually was a mysterious advertisement.
SA: How many copies were printed?
JK: When I first moved here in 1969 there were about 500 people who lived here full time. Now there are about 1500. People share copies of the paper, and there is always a copy at the downtown library. There are anywhere from 100-250 copies printed, depending on whether there are big election issues in which everyone wants a voice. Now that it is online I’m not sure how many copies are printed. I stopped being the Wednesday editor about a year ago.
SA: In the age of instant information and global news, what are some of the benefits and challenges of the Hearsay’s localism—of publishing for and about such a specific community?
JK: It certainly keeps a community glued together. Birth announcements, weddings, deaths; announcements concerning roads, water usage, the Fire Department, the school, etc. and agendas for meetings for all pertinent organizations, including the Community Center. Also the minutes taken at these meetings are published. It makes the “government” here much more transparent. The paper works as a community bulletin board in which everyone is a “reporter”—the only requirement being that you sign your name. The display ads and classified ads are local and very useful in moving goods and services around.
SA: Your phrase “everyone is a ‘reporter’” reminds me of the idea that the typewriter makes it possible for everyone to be a “publisher.” What technological changes did you witness at the Hearsay over your thirty plus years of editing? And did you publish poems in the Hearsay?
JK: Not everyone had a typewriter or printer. Many pieces were, and still are written out by hand. We tried to aim for a 3 ½” column width. So one could be a publisher if you had machine that could make multiple pages. I never published any of my own poems, but Steve Heilig who became an alternate Wednesday editor, published some of my work. I never heard anyone mention what they thought about my writing. I tried to keep a fairly translucent role as editor, publishing whatever was turned in, and with a back up of articles relevant to the community to use as filler when needed. One of the editors, Stu-Art Chapman made some official looking laminated Hearsay News Press Passes, which some ‘reporters’ have used to gain access to things like the Democratic Convention here in the 80’s, and various theater events.
SA: Did working on the Hearsay change your ideas about publishing and/or how you approach your creative work?
JK: I found out how easy it was to layout a page (8 1/2 x 17 legal size), what designs and space worked best. Actually I found out how easy it was to publish something once the ‘right’ set-up is there, and have it on the street on the same day.
We did a few publications on the press, called it Evergreen Road Press, and published a few issues of a small magazine called GATE with Stefan Hyner, who then published it on a bigger scale in Germany where he lived.
SA: You’ve published some e-books; do you feel like the immediacy of the internet is similar to the oft-lauded immediacy of mimeo publication?
JK: I’m not aware of any e-books I’ve published. What are they? The internet is quickly accessible, but unless you print out what you’re reading, it isn’t as easily available for a return read—which one wants to do with magazines and poetry.
SA: I found the e-books on your EPC author page.
JK: Found the two e-books; forgot about them. Coyote Books’ Distressed Look was also in a small edition form. Permission by the Horns was eventually unsatisfactory since it wasn’t in a paper form.
SA: What do you think makes poetry or magazines something you want to see in print, to “return read” as you say?
JK: I think poetry is something you need to read more than once—unlike headlines in a newspaper.
SA: What was your favorite aspect of being Wednesday editor?
JK: I liked being able to “produce” a publication/newspaper in one day. Very gratifying to see it all distributed at the various stores downtown and at the library. For some years there was home delivery by a crew of young kids on bikes. And also I liked meeting other members of the community who came to the office with articles or questions or to place a classified ad. One could get a feel for what the ephemeral but personal sense of what makes up ‘the news’ in a small community.
SA: Why did you stop being Wednesday editor?
JK: I thought I would take a break from the paper for a while, and that while kept getting longer. New editors eventually stepped in, reflecting another side of Bolinas. One has to watch a tendency as editor to write articles advertising oneself.
SA: What’s special and/or ordinary about Bolinas, a place that I feel has become almost mythological for poets and artists? You’ve lived abroad; why Bolinas for the last thirty plus years?
JK: Bolinas is very beautifully situated in front of the coast range, on a lagoon and a mesa. Surrounded by protected parkland. I bought my house and land here in 1972 when it was still very inexpensive. I found for a while I had to save up to be able to get out of town, which is always useful for perspective. It’s very easy to live here, but one needs to make an hour’s drive over the coast range to larger towns to do any extensive shopping for groceries, hardware, clothes etc.
SA: Sounds like a lovely and insular community. Did that make the arrival of visiting poets and artists especially important for the community? (I’m thinking of Joe Brainard’s Bolinas Journal and all the different people he mentions meeting.)
JK: For the poets, it was always wonderful to have visiting poets. I’m not sure what the rest of the community thought.
SA:Apart from the Hearsay News, what were the other kinds of publishing ventures with which you were involved (as editor, helper, etc.)? (I’m thinking of The Turkey Buzzard Review and Wild Dog—would you talk about those? Were there others?)
JK: THE TURKEY BUZZARD REVIEW was a loose gathering of friends, mostly women, who got together and drank coffee and brandy and decided what to publish. Dottie leMieux was the most ambitious, so we decided she would be editor. We gave several ‘theatrical’ Turkey Buzzard readings for the community. It was always fun and barely serious. Some years before I helped edit WILD DOG, which moved from Idaho to San Francisco in 1965-66, when I was living there.
SA:The 1971 oil spill had a galvanizing effect on the Bolinas community. Do you think that that event influenced the literary/publishing scene? (And if so, how?)
JK:Kevin Opstedal does a good and accurate job of talking about Bolinas ‘Literary’ history in DREAMING AS ONE which title he has since changed to ALL THIS EVERYDAY. It still hasn’t been published outside of being online and a few xerox copies, one of which is at the library. He covers the oil spill accurately, which does give a picture of the ‘rest’ of the community, the non-poet and very active participants. It did start a very active political participation in the town’s problems, and subsequent participation on the Bolinas Community Public Utility board, elected offices. Lewis MacAdam’s NEWS FROM NIMAN FARM is a great reflection of that time. He was an elected member of the board, and the only poet.
SA: Opstedal calls the Hearsay News a “community forum” and “ongoing biography of the town, a true and immediate diary of community consciousness.” Is this an apt description?
JK: Kevin is right on with his comments about the Hearsay News.
Stephanie Anderson is the author of In the Key of Those Who Can No Longer Organize Their Environments (Horse Less Press) and Variants on Binding (forthcoming, National Poetry Review Press). Her most recent chapbooks are Sentence, Signal, Stain (Greying Ghost) and the forthcoming LIGHTBOX (The New Megaphone). She lives in Chicago and edits Projective Industries.
Joanne Kyger was editor of the Wednesday Hearsay News for over 20 years.