A glimpse of West Marin's publishing history

11/06/2019

Coastal Marin boasts a rich history of local newspapering and publishing over the past century, as documented in a new archive assembled by Lagunitas graphic designer and writer Nicole Lavelle.  

For the past six months, the surfaces in Ms. Lavelle’s attic office in Olema have been covered in yellowing newsprint as she pieces together a comprehensive exhibit for the Jack Mason Museum, which opens this Sunday and will run through February. 

“What attracted me to this project in general was that these publications have so many voices, so it’s not a narrow glimpse [into the past], but rather one that’s pretty wide and wild,” Ms. Lavelle said. “The publications are therefore like manifestations of community. Community is hard to see sometimes, and there aren’t too many artifacts of community because it’s more of an experience, a feeling—it’s intangible. But these [publications] capture so much.”

Her exhibit, titled “An incomplete history of community publishing at the edge of the earth,” will showcase publications spanning the early 1900s to the present day and focuses on those that are defunct, though she will also include the two surviving newspapers, the Point Reyes Light and the Bolinas Hearsay News. She emphasized that she selected publications with the widest reach, emblematic of what she calls “community publishing.” 

“Most of them had super liberal editorial policies: you just had to show up with content,” she explained. “They provide such good evidence of what people were into. In most cases, it is what we are still into: farming, herbalism, talk of the ocean, local politics, coverage of the parades and plays. Even though everything is always changing here, there is some continuity that you see, threads that continue.”

Ms. Lavelle plans to cover the walls of the Inverness museum with clippings so people can get a sense of the texture, style and size of the publications; she has also written up descriptions of each one she features, based on extensive interviews with many of their founders and contributors. 

The first publication she documents is the Rogie, first published on June 4, 1903 by teenage girls summering with their families in Inverness. Ms. Lavelle characterizes it as “cheeky” and full of hearsay. “The aim of the Rogie is to furnish spicy news and to let the hermits of our lovely summering place learn that everybody is not dead yet,” an issue reads.  

In the summer of 1954, another group of teens published a local newsletter, the Inverness Bagpipe, which included reviews of local businesses, hand-drawn advertisements and comics, jokes, poems and public service announcements. It featured a regular “auld” times column, with memories from some of the older members of the community. 

The archive reveals a flurry of new publications in the 1970s. 

A monthly publication that began in 1971 called the Paper covered a key moment in Bolinas history, documenting the aftermath of the oil spill, changed leadership at the Bolinas Community Public Utility District and the establishment of the water moratorium.

Nancy Blanchard, the founder of the Paper, started the effort simply as a bulletin board, which read at the top, “Every man, woman and child in this village is responsible for this bulletin board.” Ms. Lavelle draws the link between that sentiment and the tagline for the Paper’s successor, the Bolinas Hearsay News, which declares, “Everyone is a reporter.”

Founded by Michael Rafferty, the Hearsay has published more than 7,000 issues every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for more than 45 years. 

The Paper, and for many years the Hearsay, was printed on what was known as Mesa Press, a Multilith 1250 offset lithography press purchased by a group of Bolinas poets in 1970, with $1,400 raised from bake sales and readings. (The Hearsay is now printed on a Risograph 5450.)

Another Bolinas newspaper, the Coastal Post, launched in 1975 and ran through 2010 under the leadership of Don Deane. Ms. Lavelle characterizes the Post as “unapologetically bold, a platform for radical viewpoints and harsh critique of mainstream politics and global social inequity.”

The Baywood Press, which would later become the Point Reyes Light, was borne as a staple-bound booklet in 1948. In the first issue, founders David and Wilma Rogers wrote, “This is your newspaper. It will become what YOU make it.”

In 1966, the paper moved from Inverness to Point Reyes Station and was renamed by Don DeWolfe and his wife, Clara Mae, who owned it from 1957 to 1970. The DeWolfes lived in one half of the newspaper building and printed the paper in the other half. The paper was typeset on a Linotype and printed on a flatbed press two pages at a time; Ms. DeWolfe folded it by hand. 

The Light has had many owners over its 71-year history, and Ms. Lavelle notes that they were often husband-and-wife teams. That includes Cathy and Dave Mitchell, who were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service for their coverage of the Synanon cult.

As happened several times throughout the Light’s history, in 1975, discontented community members formed a rival paper, the Tomales Bay Times, which focused more on arts and culture. Elizabeth Whitney, previously an assistant editor at the Light, was the coordinating editor. 

In a description for the exhibit, Ms. Lavelle wrote, “The TBT’s first offices were in the back of the Western, in an old beer storage room loaned by sympathetic bar owners. The operation later moved to the old bank building on the main drag, kindly offered to the paper by Richard Kirschman. It was not lost on anyone that a symbol of the establishment—the bank building in the middle of town!—was temporarily home to pot-smoking, counter-cultural newspaper writers, complete with a JB Blunk sculpture in the lobby.”

Ms. Whitney was responsible for numerous other publications that sprouted up over the years. 

Immediately after the January storm in 1982 that caused mudslides and cut power for days on end, Ms. Whitney began publishing the Inverness Daily News to inform the community about disaster efforts. For 18 days, she produced the publication every day at 3 p.m. on the second floor of the building that houses the post office. 

Ms. Whitney also helped publish the New Weather Observer, which emerged after another storm a few months later and which ran sporadically for the next year to address the hunger for any news related to weather. (Politics and astrology were also integral to the publication.)

Ms. Lavelle also chronicles numerous literary projects. 

There was Pacific Plate, which published beginning in 1976 and was the result of a magazine class offered by the Faultline Institute, an adult education program held in Bolinas. Ms. Lavelle described it as “sprawling, enormous broadsheet-sized newspapers filled to the brim with contributions of many textures, flavors and persuasions. Its content was literary, opinionated, poetic, and sometimes downright psychedelic.”

Michael Sykes, who once owned a bookstore in Point Reyes Station, Punta de los Reyes Books, also published an annual literary magazine—Floating Island—that featured poetry and photography beginning in 1976. The magazine was the start of Floating Island Press, which to date has published more than 50 poetry titles. Mr. Sykes, who now runs a bookstore in Cedarville, was also a founding editor of Estero, a thin quarterly that brought together poetry, essays, fiction, photography and illustration beginning in 1992.

Uniting these more creative efforts was a strong sense of place. (The names of both Floating Island and Pacific Plate alluded to the fact that the land west of the San Andreas Fault is slowly moving north.)    

A more recent incarnation of these journals was the Inverness Almanac, which put out four seasonal issues beginning in 2015; the same editors continue to publish local authors today as Mount Vision Press, but Ms. Lavelle included the Almanac in her archive—the latest publication to become history in West Marin.  

Reflecting on the founders of the publications over the years, Ms. Lavelle said, “For so many of them, that moment of inception was recognizing a lack, maybe in coverage or tone. And I’m so happy that so many translated that desire or critique into something else, into something new.” 

She added, “There were the leaders, and then the regular contributors. Bless the leaders, and bless all the community people who found it important enough to share.”

The process of archiving has inspired Ms. Lavelle herself to put together a new local journal, which will be released later this month. Titled OYSTERS, it includes interviews, essays, drawings, comics, poems, paintings and more around the basic theme of life in West Marin today. She hopes it will be printed on an annual basis, and plans to put out an open call for the next installment. 

 

An opening reception for “An incomplete history of community publishing at the edge of the earth” takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, with a panel discussion from 3 to 4 p.m., at the Jack Mason Museum in Inverness. Panelists include Ben Livingston, Stu Art, Elizabeth Whitney and Michael Sykes. A release party for OYSTERS takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 at Point Reyes Books.