North Atlantic Books History 1

by Richard Grossinger on March 2, 2010

Chapter Two
North Atlantic Books History 1:

Act One
My publishing career was handed to me unknowingly on a day in the fall of 1964, though it would take me almost twenty years to realize it.

The seemingly innocuous sequence of events went roughly as follows:[1]

Amherst College of my era (1962-1966) was fraternity-dominated, as the college provided minimal housing for upperclassmen and relied on its pillared fraternity mansions to domicile most of them. Everyone who didn’t room in a frat house had to live in the equivalent of a freshman dorm with strict curfews for female visitors.

One fraternity broke out of the system—Phi Alpha Psi. Cut loose by its national organization for admitting an African American in the fifties, it changed the basic rules of pledging, admitting anyone who wanted to join. Instead of extending bids to desired freshmen, it put down a list on a table in the foyer, to be signed by any and all who wanted to be members. Phi Psi thus became a hangout for artists, politicos, and outcasts of various sorts, among them early druggies and punks of the sixties, but also a melting pot of honor students, classical musicians, math whizzes, and nerds. With its constituency it tended to blow off fraternity customs. However, because it was officially a frat house, it remained governed by the fraternity council.

In 1964, at the start of my second year in Phi Psi, the council flexed its muscle and decreed that we set aside funds for a fraternity band, a house publication, and several other categories that I no longer remember but along the lines of cheerleader, historian, choregus, etc. At a meeting I didn’t attend I was elected the editor of our fledgling publication and given $100 out of the Phi Psi budget to execute it. That was the birth of Io and, ultimately, North Atlantic Books.

$100, even then, was not enough to get even a stapled mimeograph off the ground. But I had an idea: in high school I had been taught the art of selling ads to local businesses, a captive constituency with a budget for student publications. I successfully replicated that activity in the local towns of Amherst and Northampton. I also encouraged fraternity members to coax ads from their family members and I even solicited some from stores outside the area (that’s how Samuel Weiser’s Basement of the Occult and a UFO store on 96th Street in Manhattan got into the first issue). I named our venture Io after the moon of Jupiter. I wanted both a short word and a cosmic theme. Io was also as simple and originary as graphemes come: a line followed a circle. I remember thinking that it was the shortest and simplest name for any orb in the universe.

From the beginning, Io was a literary magazine with an occult and parapsychological overlay and a pinch of science fiction. Its initial contents arose from a ceremony that I held in the glen behind the fraternity house on Halloween, 1964. My speech from that event, “Tarka,” opened the first issue. To save money after costly typesetting, I got the 32-page stapled booklet printed for free on the menu press at Grossinger’s.  Who would have thought that this was a career move!

Io was both spontaneous and improvisational, a kind of witty, in-your-face response to the fraternity council’s imprimatur, with little sense of a future beyond that single issue. Nonetheless, we put 25 cents on it and sold it on the long dinner lines at Amherst. Not too many people bought it out of enthusiasm, especially with so many other, free college publications but, with a captive audience in a slow-moving queue, we dispersed a moderate number of copies to the bored and hungry.

We published a second issue a year later and a third from Ann Arbor after we graduated. Io really took off, however, with the fourth issue, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Subtextually Io also represented a patchwork of origins, converging at different levels:

1. Lindy and I had literary ambitions. We had both been writing since we were teenagers, and we each inherited a family tradition. Lindy’s father was a journalist and the poetry editor of the Denver Post, and her godfather was poet and translator John Ciardi, who was stationed in the Army in Denver during World War II. By the time I met her at Smith College sophomore year she was herself an accomplished poet, having made a “career change” from ballet and modern dance to writing near the end of high school.

I was an aspiring novelist then. The previous summer at my father’s resort I met such varied writers as the afore-mentioned Paddy Chayefsky (see Chapter One), Rod Serling, Harold Robbins, and the publisher Bennett Cerf. More to the point, my English professor Leo Marx had liked my high-school writing enough to put me in touch with Catherine Carver and, during the period of Lindy’s and my early dates, I was working on a novel under CC’s guidance.

2. Soon after we started going out together, Lindy and I broke with our literary pasts and threw in with a more avant-garde pack of writers centered around the poet Robert Kelly, a teacher at Bard College. Many weekends over the subsequent two years we drove south from the Berkshires to hang out at Kelly’s “salon.”

I got connected to this Hudson Valley group initially through a high-school friend Charles Stein (referred to as Chuck hereafter). We were in Kingsley Ervin’s creative-writing course together at Horace Mann, a private school in New York City, and he used to attend Buck’s Rock, an artistic summer camp where avant-garde writers were counselors—a marvel to me who was stuck with jock Zionist camps for the most part!  While Chuck was still in high school, he met Robert Kelly through his Bucks Rock connections, and gradually Kelly’s literary circle became his own.

To get the actual lineage correct and thank the right go-betweens, Chuck introduced me to Bard undergraduate poet Harvey Bialy by bringing him to the 1964 Halloween event. Bialy liked my invocation speech, asked for a copy for Kelly, and a day later Robert invited me to visit him.  My girlfriend came along.

Not only did Kelly provide our literary initiation, he catalyzed our exploration of occult and esoteric realms, which were his own métier and  common theme for the intimate circle of artists and writers around him.

Back in high school, Chuck had brought his tarot deck to our writing class to annotate the works of Hart Crane and Charles Olson. As he laid the cards out for our neophyte group, he explained their symbolism. I was immediately hooked, so he led me on the subway to Weiser’s Basement of the Occult on lower Broadway (see New Moon, pp. 213-214 and 249-250).

Kelly continued this initiation by preparing reading lists for Lindy and me on alchemy, the hermetic tradition, Sufism, Gurdjieff, etc. He also gave us copies of small-press and mimeo books of (to us) obscure poets and prose writers like Charles Olson, Gerrit Lansing, Paul Blackburn, Diane Wakoski, Jerome Rothenberg, Edward Dorn. He wanted us to be radicalized by their innovative styles and avant-garde spirit, as he was trying to catapult us beyond those innate provincialisms that were being reinforced by our insular Ivy League environments.

In this world of writers, many people edited their own literary magazines, including Robert himself: a stapled bunch of pages called matter, which he produced irregularly on a mimeo machine in his study. Before I even met Kelly, Chuck had already published two issues of an occult journal, Aion, on topics of so-called “traditionary thought,” meaning “the occult.” Aion was Io’s model and, after he abandoned his own publication, Chuck directed many of his authors to us, as he became our informal contributing editor.

Io gave Lindy and me a way to participate in Kelly’s salon as active writers and editors and to bridge our worlds at Amherst and Smith to a larger poetic and psychospiritual community.

3. Meanwhile, a loose alliance of groups at the four colleges in our area were trying to launch a regional literary magazine (Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts being the others before the advent of Hampshire). So Lindy became Io’s Smith editor; poet Robert Bagge its UMass. liaison; and an artist/astronomer named Sue Mohl its Mount Holyoke rep.

Io/1, which appeared in the spring of 1965, was highlighted by an introductory letter from Ray Bradbury wishing us well—I simply wrote to him in the spirit of Dandelion Wine and got a response. In addition to work from Chuck’s poetry circle and a smattering of mysticism and parapsychology ranging from Velikovsky’s comet to psi phenomena, a small complement of four-college student literature collected by our contributing editors was sprinkled throughout.

4. By fortuity the year after Phi Psi suddenly “needed” a fraternity publication, the Eastman Kodak Fund, administered by Amherst president Calvin Plimpton, was publicized as available for “unusual” student projects. At Plimpton’s recommendation I submitted Io and received three thousand dollars. Amherst being a wealthy college with numerous conventional extracurricular activities and programs, few students had previously thought of applying—I may have been the first.[2]

So our magazine synergized from four distinctly different paths: an Eastman Fund grantee, the Phi Psi house publication, a Kelly-salon journal, a four-college lit mag. The Eastman fund also provided additional revenue for a series poetry readings (Kelly, Paul Blackburn, Diane Wakoski) and experimental film-showings (Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Harry Smith, Bruce Connor) that drew people from throughout the area to Phi Psi.

Amazingly, some people who got involved in Io in 1964 remained connected to our publishing. Jon Klimo, a psychologist who bought the first two issues while living in Amherst and who attended some of our events at Phi Psi, is now an author of books for us on channeling and communication with the dead.  Jon Wolpaw wrote on “Psi Phenomena” in the first issue, and his cousin Jule Eisenbud became our “house” parapsychologist after I met him in Maine in 1970 and then interviewed him in Denver in 1971 (see Chapter One).

As Kelly’s influence became more dominant than any other, the collegiate concept evaporated after the first issue. Lindy and I spent the intervening summer, before senior year, in Aspen, Colorado, hanging around with poets and film-makers at an upscale writers’ workshop. We were not paid participants, as we barely made enough money from our odd jobs to rent a one-room cabin outside town.

We collected work for Io from poet Bobby Byrd (now publisher of Cinco Puntos Press), notables Paul Blackburn and John Taggart, film-maker Stan Brakhage, and the lesser known Mitchell Miller and Welton Smith. Io/2, also a stapled journal, appeared in the spring of 1966, more than twice the size of Io/1.

With the broadening of Io’s vision, only one member of my original Phi Psi group remained on the staff: Nelson Richardson, a surrealist poet and former novice monk with Thomas Merton in Kentucky, as well as an associate of Andy Warhol.  I lost touch with him decades ago, but he brought angels, Jean Cocteau, Philip Terry Borden, and pop art to the early issues and remained a co-editor for many years after we all left Amherst and Smith.[3]

Act Two

Io was meant to be a one-shot event. Then it got extended financially by the Eastman Fund and editorially by writers from Kelly’s salon and Aspen.

By the time we graduated from Amherst and Smith and headed to Michigan, Amherst college had completed construction of its so-called social dorms, ending Phi Psi’s usefulness, hence its life as a fraternal body. There was no one around with an interest or frame of reference to continue Io, so good old President Plimpton suggested that I take the bank account with me, amounting to a few hundred dollars at that point, and continue the publication as I wished.

His beneficence allowed Lindy and me to get out a third issue from Ann Arbor where I was beginning graduate studies in anthropology. Heavily influenced by American Indian themes, especially Hopi and Navaho texts, Io/3 had virtually no audience. Without the captive food lines and insular group of Amherst readers, we had no place to go with our stacks of magazines.

We shipped a few cartons back to Amherst in care of those who remained at Phi Psi, but barely any sold. Instead we began to rely on a few bookstores that had discovered us—Asphodel in Cleveland; Moe’s in Berkeley; Temple Bar in Boston; Centicore in Ann Arbor; and 8th Street, Gotham, and Phoenix in New York. They ordered and sold many times more copies of the third issue than the first two. Plus we had accumulated about three dozen subscribers by then. Still, there wasn’t enough cash or momentum overall to justify going forward.

That was when my grandmother contributed her $600 (see Chapter One). But she wasn’t the sole reason that we revived our fading literary magazine into Classic Io which became one of the more influential publications of the counterculture and avant-garde literary movements of the sixties into the seventies. Our old mentor provided the spark in a most direct and explicit way.

Robert Kelly visited us in Ann Arbor in 1967 and, not knowing that we were about to fold like Aion, handed us a very quirky and complex manuscript of his entitled “Alchemical Journal” in hopes that we could “present it properly to the world.” In page count it  was longer all by itself than any one of the previous three issues. Although we had ended Io in our minds, we were honored by having been given responsibility for this important piece. I imagined surrounding it with other alchemical materials. I already had a few alchemical translations that I had pulled off while taking Mediaeval Latin senior year at Amherst plus, more recently, I had been exploring the alchemy section at the University of Michigan library, and had found gems.

I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to carry out this imagined occult coup. I spoke to  my grandmother and, after she provided the money, I selected the best out-of-print alchemical translations in old books along with some other writings and poems. With a few local Ann Arbor ads and our small subscriber list, we managed to underwrite the first thematic Io, “Alchemy Issue, Number 4” in 1967.

The enthusiastic response was far beyond any expectations,and it launched the second phase of our publishing career. We sold far more copies of Io/4 initially (2000 or so) than we had of previous issues put together, even counting the food lines at Amherst.  And these were mostly in the marketplace through bookstores, as the original counterculture, having both literary and occult constituencies, swept the nation. We also got many new subscribers and bookstore accounts and, even more important, sympathetic authors, including the hall-of-fame poets Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson.

From 1967 through 1971 we generated increasing revenues from sales, and we received enough work from both familiar and unknown writers to do annual issues: Doctrine of Signatures (5), Ethnoastronomy (6), Oecology (7), and Dreams/Oneirology (8). These were the true Classic Ios that people remember as representing the magazine’s heyday and as being formative and influential in their own personal literary and psychospiritual development. They are the chrysalis for all that came later, including North Atlantic Books. In a way their youthful and naive authenticity was never subsequently replicated, as they were the yolk, the germ inside the seed that would blossom into a whole forest. The full template was concentrated subtly and clandestinely in that DNA.

We published Alchemy through Ethnoastronomy in Ann Arbor, Oecology (with a poem by Gary Snyder and an interview with local lobsterfisherman Wendell Seavey) on Mount Desert Island where I did my fieldwork, and Dreams/Oneirology from Cape Elizabeth where we lived during the two years that I taught at the University of Maine. (BTW North Atlantic did a whole oral history of Seavey, Working the Sea, thirty-five years later.)

These Ios were informed and inspired by the cosmological and mythopoetic writings of Kelly, Olson, Duncan, Dorn, and their Beat and Black Mountain compadres. The poetic source materials combined with my anthropological explorations led us into domains of Sufism, Jungian psychology, alchemy, ethnobotany, ethnozoology, ethnoastronomy, American Indian philosophy, Western hermeticism, phenomenology of landscape, ecology, oneirology, and myth. Occult and non-Western texts mixed with mostly avant-garde literary works, and this melding characterized all twenty-three vintage Io issues between 1964 and 1976.

In semi-collage format—executed mostly on IBM Selectric typewriters, often with mixed fonts—Io comprised poems; essays; translations of Mediaeval, Oriental, and American Indian texts; scientific notes from a diversity of astronomical, biological, and ethnoscientific sources (including radio astronomer Fred Haddock, astrophysicist Carl Sagan, crystallographer Paul Cloke, and parapsychologist Jule Eisenbud); myths, dreams, and visions; and—as spot art—mandalas, petroglyphs, star maps, geomantic line drawings, Hopi shields, and magical insignia. In that sense, the journal represented simultaneously the early metaphysical stirrings of the counterculture and the Vietnam War-era renaissance of the independent literary magazine.

It was at the time of the Dreams Issue that an event happened that triggered the next phase of our development.

While we doing Ios at our own alchemical pace in out-of-the-way Maine, the counterculture was in full, gaudy, prospering florescence in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Whole Earth Catalogue gave birth to a distribution collective called Bookpeople, and the co-op soon expanded into a full-fledged purveyor of alternative publications, spidering a gamut from hallucinogens to fixing your Volkswagen to astral travel to communal farming. In 1971 Terry Nemeth, a honcho at Bookpeople, sent us an elegantly calligraphed letter on rice paper, singing with the cosmic jive of the era, offering humbly and formally to become the distributor of Io.

We hardly knew what that meant, but we loved his huge order and pretty much cleaned our barn in Maine out of the stock of back issues. Books are good insulation and some copies were still ice-cold by the time they arrived in Berkeley.  People came out of the offices and warehouse to feel them. Bookpeople sold the entire order, leading us to reprint them all.

Once Bookpeople began circulating our issues on a regular basis, Io had ample funds and lots of contributors from around the country. After a book on Mars by me (see below), we next published Io/10, the Baseball Issue, a funky potpourri by a variety of avant-garde poets and offbeat sportswriters along with material culled from old books and other public sources. We accidentally (without immediate or subsequent benefit) carried out a separate coup, setting a student at the Orono branch of the University of Maine in print for the first time, Stephen King. It was almost twenty years before we realized it was the Stephen King, only after collectors suddenly caught on and cleaned us out of our $3.50 issues. By the time we got it, they were selling for $100 each on up.

Io was also the place of first publication for translator Charles Doria, novelist Jayne Anne Phillips (while a student at the University of West Virginia where she met Lindy and me after our reading in Morgantown in 1972), Kathy Acker (maybe), Anne White Feather, and many other young writers who went on to success like David Wilk and Rob Brezsny.

The Baseball Issue broke with the Classic Io era and began a new type of issue and seriality, mixing books with magazines and leaving the Aion-like occult and esoteric format.  Baseball was a clear break with magic and alchemy and the beginning of an entry into landscape and pop culture, vistas that had been implicit but unrealized previously.

The same year (1971) that Bookpeople became our conduit to the larger world, I was invited by Norman O. Brown, the founder of the History of Consciousness program at Santa Cruz to interview for a plum job (see Chapter One). After a week of lively participation with students, I had high hopes, but I was too weird academically for the program and not very mature socially either, so I was not offered the competititve position. Yet the experience in California opened Lindy’s and my eyes to the larger world, and we decided to leave the University of Maine.

I took a job offered me out of the blue by Jerry Witherspoon, the president of Goddard College, a precise hundred miles on the odometer from our Cape Elizabeth, Maine, front door. I had been recommended to Jerry by a faculty member there who had read Solar Journal and liked it. That decision landed us in Plainfield, Vermont, a hub of countercultural publishing, communes, and general heightened psychospiritual consciousness. The Maine years of Io are recounted in New Moon (pp. 551-574), the Vermont years of Io and fledgling North Atlantic Books in Out of Babylon (from about p. 129 to near the end of the book).

During our sojourn in Vermont, Io expanded from an annual to quasi-quarterly, irregularly putting out anywhere from two to four issues a year through 1974. We zoomed up to Number 20 in a flash, as the subscriber base grew to over 150, including enthusiastic correspondents like David Ulansey, Oliver Loveday, Evan Eyerick, Naomi Schechter, and Paul Schroeder. Hordes of new bookstores ordered and reordered our volumes, including the Vancouver Island Penis, Shambhala Booksellers in Berkeley, the Bodhi Tree in Los Angeles, and official university shops in Kansas, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Massachusetts.

While still in Maine we published our first books as issues of Io— one each by Lindy and me—Changing Woman (Io/11) and Mars: A Science Fiction Vision, respectively, and Love Minus Zero: No Limits by the pseudonymous and itinerant poet Frank Zero, a title we were provincial enough not to know came from Bob Dylan. Frank Cobb, or Ahad as he came to be christened in his Sufi initiation, later helped found the Buddhist-Sufi commune Lama Foundation in San Cristobal, New Mexico, and he still manages Lama’s vestiges there from Albuquerque. We also published his book Superconscious over thirty years after he was Io/15.

In Vermont we oversaw both regular and guest-edited issues including four Earth Geography Booklets with subtitles “Economics, Technology, and Celestial Influence,” “Regions and Locales,” “Imago Mundi,” and “Anima Mundi”; Biopoeisis edited by Harvey Bialy; Mind Memory Psyche, coedited by Lindy with a variety of writers including literary critic Bob Bertholf; and a huge catalogue-like Vermont issue that I assembled with a class of Goddard students. It had the intentionally ponderous and old-fashioned subtitle: “Geology and Mineral Industries; Flora, Fauna, & Conditions of Sky; A Survey of Towns and Habitations; A Report on Migration; A Morphology of Landscape; The Progress of the Soul.”

Io was already bursting at the seams to turn into something else, but it took another magical equation and tipping point to complete the metamorphosis.

Act Three

Io was flourishing but, at the same time, its original aesthetic and tightness of attention had been lost. It had turned into a sprawling heap, not unlike the counterculture itself. We had come to publish it somewhat ritually and from long routine—fat issues crammed with diverse voices of daffily varying style and quality and a growing subscriber list, but a broadening and thinning of topics. Io wasn’t something that we could give up, but we had outgrown the template without knowing what else to do, what the next step was on this path.

Then in 1974 our neighbor Ellen Lovell, who was director of the Vermont Arts Council, told us that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) had begun offering grants for literary publishing and she would support us if we applied.

The moment was ripe. When Io began, alternative literary magazines like ours were relatively scarce but now, with increasingly improved offset technology, there was a florescence of all genres: dime-a-dozen ones, literary-oriented ones, regional ones, even other thematic ones. “Too many,” Robert Duncan complained. “We used to dream of the day when everyone could be published. Now it is a dark magic wish come true.” Meanwhile many Io authors had been pressing us for books for years, as something more urgent to them than just ongoing issues with a few of their poems. We decided to seize the opportunity. We came up with a hasty press name, submitted an application under Ellen’s aegis, and received full funding on our first try, $7500—more money than we had ever handled before.

The name was selected partly for the North Atlantic region (Io having originated in Massachusetts and being published subsequently from Maine and Vermont); partly for Alan Van Newkirk’s Geographic Foundation of the North Atlantic, an early (1970) ecological center in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, founded by urban radicals from Detroit who published broadsides and pamphlets under the name of root, branch, and mammal; and partly from Edward Dorn’s 1960s millennial poem, “North Atlantic Turbine: A Theory of Truth,” which drummed out the vibrations of global commoditization and the hegemony of Western consciousness.

Although Io itself continued to be published after 1974, its differentiation and remaining integrity evaporated. After the Vermont Issue for Number 21 in 1975 and two Olson-Melville Sourcebooks (“The New Found Land” and “The Mediterranean”) in 1976, the “lit mag” look was superseded by the individual trade-paperback design of each volume as a discrete book of North Atlantic per its topic. That is, subsequent issues appeared under the North Atlantic Books imprint as numbered anthologies of the press rather than issues of Io, the literary-magazine heritage noted most consistently on the copyright pages rather than the covers. These collections (on astrology, baseball, martial arts, alchemy, ecology, sacred geography, Buddhism, etc.) continued to ship to our subscription list in that fashion for decades afterward.

The mirage of a continuing Io was maintained initially because of the 200-person subscription list and later because literary magazines were suddenly deeded their own NEA grants program, so we could apply under two rubrics if we kept the Io concept alive. Despite this somewhat ingenuous ploy, the anthologies did maintain Io’s idiosyncratic blend of esoteric and literary texts.

North Atlantic Books began its library by publishing writers from our literary group. On grant funds in successive years we issued books of poetry and experimental prose by Gerrit Lansing, Bobby Byrd, Diane di Prima, Theodore Enslin, Bernadette Mayer, Edward Sanders, and Lindy and me, spiced with a few tiny stapled volumes paid for by their authors (there was a pragmatic element right from the beginning, for the more books we did, the more revenue we had, even in small increments, and the more of a backlist to cite on the next grant application): Paul Kahn’s Kansas Cycle, Josie Clare’s Deutschland and Other Places, and Wayne Turiansky’s Sand Cast, his love ballad to a hippie Amazon lady. Most of these books sold a few hundred copies at best, and none of them culled near enough of an audience to break even on their own, so we were dependent from year to year on grants to keep the press going.

When we moved from Vermont to California, Io and North Atlantic were predominantly grant-supported enterprises with a small stream of revenue, most of it from Io subscribers and bookstore accounts, and we did not think of either of them as anything more than that. They were not businesses or jobs. Io was the more significant commercial entity on the “street,” but North Atlantic had the larger cashflow and bigger book output because of its large grants.

In migrating to the Bay Area in 1977, we were going to the mother lode of our distribution, Bookpeople. Yet, at the same time, Lindy and I had no personal source of income beyond my Doubleday advance and unemployment compensation from being “laid off” at Goddard—no more wages. Continuing to publish books in our dicey economic situation was questionable at best, so Io/North Atlantic became backburner. I did try for a while to “package” the two presses with myself as an entity to hire by some prestigious college like Swarthmore, Vanderbilt, or Evergreen State, but, as noted earlier, I misread the times on that as badly as I did on interdisciplinary matters. There was absolutely no interest in a nonacademic, experimental publishing venture whose authors practiced mainly outside the establishment.

Ultimately we chose to incorporate both presses as an anthropological nonprofit (Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences) for one main reason: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began requiring either formal nonprofit status or a fiscal agent to receive our funds, and the one that we and most others in the East Bay used, Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program, siphoned off thirty percent of the revenues to “administer” each grant. Ironically, soon after we achieved our nonprofit status (on our second filing try), the grants dried up, but that is part of the story.

During the early years in California I stayed home, being the parent for our two kids returning from school. I ran the publishing as well and did my own writing on advances (Planet Medicine and The Night Sky; see Chapter One). For the first year and a half of that time, longer than I had hoped for, I collected unemployment—the Carter Administration extending benefits during the recession. Then we got the three annual grants for our nonprofit under the rubric “Barbary Coast Distribution Company,” as NEA/Literature started a new program for book distribution and put out a request for proposals (in general) and multicultural ones (in particular).

Local African American author and publisher Ishmael Reed was the program’s star and main man, but he didn’t have enough pockets in his raincoat to hold all the money he could command, so he elected to have one whole program, Barbary Coast, administered through Native Arts and Sciences (he was already running a larger grant-funded multicultural distribution program called Before Columbus). I got a part-time salary under the grant for my role.

Among the curious menagerie of small presses in our little consortium were: Blue Wind, Aleph, Plucked Chicken, Sea Urchin, Cloud Marauder, Cadmus Editions, The Difficulties, Credences, I. Reed Books, Artaud’s Elbow, Tombouctou, Dark Child, New Wilderness, Turtle Island Foundation, The Figures, Aspect, and Little Dinosaur. Most were Bay Area, but individual ones came from West Virginia, Tennessee, Hawaii, Ohio, New York, etc. To my knowledge, none of them still exist.

In truth, Barbary Coast did almost nothing except write grants and receive money, though I spent a certain amount of time organizing its putative activities while hiring my own and Ishmael’s ex-students as sales reps to nowhere (they actually visited and phoned many stores, but their sale orders were infinitesimal, a fraction of the grant amounts).

By the time the NEA funds dried up altogether, I was being paid by Avon to work on my embryology book, so there was a continuity of income. I also taught an occasional class or gave a paid lecture on “planet medicine.” Lindy meanwhile worked in arts administration at East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and then Far West Labs and the Contra Costa College district. Events for the years from 1977 through the mid nineties are novelized in Out of Babylon, particularly the chapter “Playing for Keeps” (pp. 377-419).

The transition of North Atlantic Books into a business was gradual to the point of invisible, and it really didn’t take on its full meaning and impact until we were many years past the crossroads. The first years of North Atlantic Books were economically and conceptually identical to the years of Post-Classic Io, only worse in terms of reliable sales because there was no subscriber base. They entailed similar if not the same authors and pretty much the same market in terms of makeup and scale. We were taken in a new direction by an unintentional move out of that original demographic.

Kevin Kerrane, an English professor at the University of Delaware, had been using our Baseball Issue in his course on baseball literature for a number of years. Just before we moved to California, he arranged for me to give a reading in Newark and talk to his class and, while I was there, he proposed to me that he and I do a “real” baseball issue together—an anthology that would include pieces by top-notch literary figures like John Updike, Jack Kerouac, George Plimpton, John Sayles, and Phillip Roth and poets of all persuasions, as well as our own avant-garde and funky collations of material highlighted by such pieces as Rob Brezsny’s “Qabalistic Sex Magick for Shortstops and Second Basemen,” Bernadette Mayer’s poem in admiration of Carlton Fisk, and Sheppard Powell’s photographic “unhittable yogic slider for Bill Lee.” Kevin had been assembling such a master anthology on his own for a number of years, and he took the bundle out of a drawer in his office to show me.

I loved the idea, especially insofar as our prospective first NEA grant for Io potentially provided a source of funding to pay the upscale contributors. Previously Io had been totally outsider and countercultural, the letter from Ray Bradbury and my interview with Carl Sagan notwithstanding. The baseball anthology (Io/24) broke our longstanding rebel mold and thrust the magazine and the press into the mainstream of American letters.

Baseball I Gave You All the Best Years of My Life, coedited by Kevin Kerane and me appeared in 1978 during our single year in a tiny house on Hudson Street in Oakland, California. It was a 400-page 8 1/2 by 11 issue that was also an anthology under the North Atlantic Books imprint. The book sold three entire print runs in less than a year, and most of these did not go through Bookpeople but were bought by a national mainstream distributor, Ingram Book Company.

We sold the rights to the hot anthology to Doubleday Anchor for whom I was writing Planet Medicine at the time. My new editor there, Tim McGinnis, avidly sought the book, and his offer with an advance was an immediate and welcome source of cash for us. That decision, though, strangely killed the project, as it immediately tanked under my new title, Baseball Diamonds: Tales, Traces, Visions, and Voodoo from a Native American Rite—early proof that small-press publishing can, for the right book, can be more commercial than mainstreaming of identical material. Still, the original edition opened for us the whole area of sports anthologizing, and we produced three more anthologies (two baseball, one basketball) during the 1980s as well as several baseball-history books. None did as well as the Baseball I Gave You…, but they collectively helped to expand our market.

At roughly the same time (1978-1979) we began to put out other marketable books under North Atlantic without fully grasping the shift of attention or its economic implications. I managed to procure a translation of the t’ai-chi classics from Benjamin Lo, my t’ai-chi teacher in San Francisco, and his associates, a project I got funded under NEA as a literary work since the lessons were in verse format. The NEA literature program never asked any questions, and I probably could have published a cookbook or investment manual as avant-garde poetics if I had wanted then (and other presses did).

I then persuaded my Ann Arbor anthropology thesis advisor Roy “Skip” Rappaport, an academician partly responsible for creating the modern field of ecological anthropology, to let us rather than Yale University Press, his prior publisher, produce his second book, an anthology that subsequently appeared under North Atlantic as Ecology, Meaning, and Religion. Skip commented at the time that it was less time-consuming for him to give me a book than continuing to write endless recommendations futilely trying to get me a job (as I was hardly a conventionally hirable anthropologist). He also became a Board Member of the nonprofit until his death in 1999.

Ecology, Meaning, and Religion was widely adopted as a textbook and not only brought us sales in a new category but opened up our list to more ecology and anthropology titles and academic books in general.

In addition, writing Planet Medicine led me to a treasure trove: an entire neglected literature on alternative medicine. Initially I hooked up with Dana Ullman, founder of Homeopathic Educational Services, as a copublisher, and together we issued an out-of-print classic, Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy by James Tyler Kent. Then we published a new anthology of writings by legendary Jungian homeopath Edward Whitmont—Psyche and Substance: Essays on Homeopathy in the Light of Jungian Psychology.

I did not make a distinction back then between alternative medicines like homeopathy and the internal martial arts that arose out of the same philosophical modalities or, for that matter, between both of those and the metaphysical and literary themes of Io. Thus, new lines of books and prior literary/occult publishing evolved simultaneously, overlapping.

North Atlantic Books emerged as a business and a trade publisher out of a confluence of further, seemingly unrelated events that intersected through the mid-1980s. At their onset in 1982 Lindy and I were more or less hippie poets with a small press dependent on grants. By 1989 we ran an independent publishing company funded entirely from sales with enough money to pay me a salary.

In 1980 the revenue of North Atlantic Books and Io combined reached $100,000 for the first time ever on the last day of the year by a few pennies, as our unofficial book-keeper, Robin Grossinger, cheered a threshold he had awaited as suspensefully as an eleven-year-old might. Actually the last check later bounced, so we missed by fifteen dollars, but I purposely book-kept that in 1981. By 1990 North Atlantic Books was around $750,000 in revenues.

In 1980 the only “employees” were Lindy, who edited some books, and Robin and Miranda who packed boxes after school and did odd jobs as fit their ages and talents. Otherwise, I did the whole thing solo: from answering the phone to acquisitions to editing manuscripts to working out tacit designs with printers to shipping and billing. By 1990 we were paying a book designer and two part-time employees as well as me.

In 1980 we ran the publishing from our house in the Richmond hills, a drab suburban neighborhood northwest of Berkeley, overlooking Chevron with its oil refineries and storage tanks. The garage was our warehouse. By 1990 Robin was in college, and our family shared an office/home with North Atlantic Books in the Elmwood district of Berkeley, the business adapting a swimming-pool room created by the previous owner, Mario, the proprietor of La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant on Telegraph. To his dismay, we covered his prize pool, albeit thrown together by amateur illegal (in all ways) carpenters and plumbers san codes or permits, with a wood floor to make a thousand-square-foot warehouse. His beloved adjoining cocktail-party room, refurbished with desks and file cabinets along the wall, became our office.

What factors fueled this grand transformation?

1. A key though often unheralded event was a revision in the interpretation of the tax code regarding the status of book inventory, a court ruling sometimes known as the Thor Decision because of the ultimately winning argument that widgets manufactured by the Thor Power Tool Company were to be treated no differently from books (and vice versa)—an interpretation that hurt literature far more than it helped widgets. Books suddenly had no special cultural value under protection by the IRS through its tax code. That is, to oversimplify the changeover, no statute privileged unsold book inventory such that it could be fully depreciated on the ledgers while retaining its unrealized full value in the market.

Usually I stand ideologically with Democrats, but this publishing course change was initiated by a Democratic Congress that deemed the special treatment of books to be elitist. Republicans fought against it for the cultural protection of books, but didn’t have the votes. The Dems couldn’t justify a rule that held the nondestruction of slow-moving book inventory to have unique value because of the intrinsic worth of text and written knowledge to society. A book was consigned to the same status and social class as a widget, in meaning as well as in semiological and sociological context.  I find the literary transformation of widgets interesting in the context of the deconstruction of intellectual value—a kind of Derrida-realm operation—but otherwise it was a cultural disaster.

The result was that whole lines quickly vanished from the inventory of large publishers like Harper, Doubleday, and Random House—Torchbooks, Anchor, some of Vintage. It was more lucrative to shred and pulp these slow-selling albatrosses than to store and move them gradually, because their worth was now perishable and their equity value in dispute. This meant much of the cream of Western civilization, the wisdom of the ages was deemed to be of less value than the print, paper, and binding on which it was inked and so it was recycled back into raw newsprint. The whole industry turned more commercial, less educational. Thousands of titles were immediately orphaned and, in subsequent years, many valuable but less commercial books simply didn’t get published.

But it worked ironically (and unforeseen) to our advantage.  Small presses were there to snap up the best of the discards and then to fill the publishing slack. We took on not only abandoned classics like Bruce Lamb’s Wizard of the Upper Amazon but new books that previously would have been published by large houses like Will Baker’s Backward: An Essay on Indians, Time, and Photography and Richard Hoagland’s The Monuments of Mars.

This rubric segues seamlessly into the next.

2. For decades if not centuries commercial publishers funded culturally important, less commercial books with their cash-cow bestsellers. Now the shareholders and corporate executives of a new, less noble era saw no reason not to try to max out the profits that they made on the popular titles, and they felt no moral or aesthetic obligation to take the largesse generated by these sellers and invest it in more nuanced intellectual and artistic books.  It was money for the shareholders or corporate bonuses.

On some level, economically and intellectually tiered publishing had been an implicitly a civic and social responsibility since the dawn of the “industry.”  In the “Heisenberg Galaxy,” publishers had taken on themselves the status and duty of maintaining knowledge and culture; it was the duty and the joy of the trade. But the old-fashioned gentleman’s publishing world was gradually losing its sway under the onslaught of the new kinds of corporate brains that were taking over publishing companies and the conglomerates that bought publishing companies: bottom-line people in lieu of book lovers who had a bent for business.  They didn’t want to waste money on “losers,” which included important, slow-selling books.

Of course, this was a facet of the business world in general which seemed to wake up suddenly to a whole new understanding of the bottom line as well as the uses and power of liquidity. Raw cash suddenly was recognized as an unanointed miracle drug that had been “squandered’ blindly for decades, perhaps centuries. Its value as a goal in itself rather than a means to other goals meant that it was pulled out of systems that mulched it culturally and symbolically for creative development and then it was used exclusively and algebraically to create its own system of static wealth. Corporate takeovers and the making of money solely by other money became stanchions of a new era, ushering in ultimately the Reagan marketplace and the deregulated Greenspan-Bush Fox News America. The old publishers soon belonged in old black-and-white movies with Jimmy Stewart as the boss and Audrey Hepburn and Donna Reed as editors.

Independent presses, which could support themselves off much smaller print runs, were there waiting, as with the Thor orphans, to provide a new home for many diverse abandoned authors and books.

3. With traditional channels for publishing their books drying up, academics and their mainstream literary colleagues suddenly discovered the NEA pipeline. And their attitude was approximately: “Who the f… is getting that money? Nobodies!” Meaning us and and our friends. So they launched their own imprints overnight and, along with another emerging phalanx of presses that could be categorized as minority-based, took over the funding stream from the oldtimers like us. That meant that many of the small NEA-created literary presses died instantly, but those that survived had greater oomph in the less competitive avant-garde market, both for sales and manuscripts.

Being forced off the NEA teat turned out to be an advantage too, not only because it reduced the number of competitors that we had for authors and customers but because it forced us to develop more commercial lines within our domains.  It made us grow up and fight with the big boys.

4. When the chainstores emerged as a powerful and hegemonous force, they brought an unexpected boon for independent presses, as they were imprint-blind as long as they could get their products at high discounts. Before the emergence of chainstores, North Atlantic Books might have stood in relation to Doubleday, in the eyes of the retail market, much as a lemonade stand did to Coca-Cola Bottling Company, despite the fact that the books pretty much looked the same. Our midlists were created by the same cadre of authors, and the physical objects came off the same presses and assembly lines at the same printers. Yet in those pre-1980s imprint was currency, and our lack of stature and street cred confined us to a tiny cubbyhole within the publishing industry at large. There was not even a way to declare independence like a small enclave within a nation. We were charming, maybe, but economically irrelevant until the chainstores and independent distributors came along.

As they threw themselves into the book business in a big way, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks fully recognized our products as not only identical to those of the large presses but potentially more profitable. If we offered a better discount and provided stuff (through our distributors) that sold quickly off the shelves in neglected categories like martial arts and alternative medicines, our titles were selected over those of the New York behemoths, and this success established the basis for later, less obvious titles to be recruited from the distributor’s sales kits into chainstore models.

Whereas our emerging martial-arts and holistic-health lists had been spurned uniformly by snobby, imprint-sensitive independent bookstores, they were bought in legion by the chains and, as they sometimes demonstrated remarkable consumer sell-through, they got built into statistical models that generated automatic re-orders.

We found ourselves among a new generation of publishers, creating our own niches.

5. Independent distribution came of age. In the early days of Io and North Atlantic, Lindy and I thought of Bookpeople as a distributor, but they were technically a wholesaler, a nonexclusive intermediary between presses and bookstores that took an additional fifteen percent or so of the cover price as their share. We began using Publishers Group West (PGW) in 1982 as little more than another wholesaler, a companion to Bookpeople. So we were already a member press when that venture-underwritten company evolved into a full-fledged distributor.

In a certain sense PGW was always a distributor, disguised as a wholesaler, waiting for the opportune moment of metamorphosis to grow wings and rule the meadow—though we had no inkling of that and didn’t even grok the concept.  We did not recognize their predatory ambition and subtle eye.

Gathering a group of independent publishers under their brand name, a distributor like the original PGW sells their aggregate lists exclusively through a coterie of marketing personnel and reps. They advance orders for front list (new titles) by the season and manage the backlist aggressively. This allows smaller presses to exercise collectively the muscle of a Harper Collins or Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the market.

In this particular game the rules are: one distributor per publisher. Just as Random House does not sell Penguin or Holt titles (unless they acquire the presses), so PGW sells only its contracted exclusive presses. Bookpeople, on the other hand, like Ingram, sold everything including large-press titles. These were classic wholesalers.

Despite PGW’s transformation we kept our independent status within their company a lot longer than most of our fellow presses but, in the mid 1990s, PGW imposed their standard exclusive agreement for the book trade on us. Well, they didn’t impose it; they were just very persuasive salesmen. CEO Charlie Winton had been trying simultaneously to arm-twist and persuade us on this matter for many moons—every new press added by PGW was on an exclusive basis, and fewer and fewer of the older PGW presses retained a grandfathered right to sell on their own to selective accounts.

We, however, continued to be allowed to sell to many stores and other accounts that had long been accustomed to ordering from us. PGW wanted those accounts, in principle and as an example to other presses as well as for their extra dollars in the corporate bottom line, and Charlie was smart enough to know how to finally win the argument, as I will explain in the next chapter. When we lost our right to sell anywhere, we were fundamentally changed as a creative venture and as a business, even under our nonprofit rubric, but it happened so quietly that we didn’t even notice and it didn’t even really seem to happen, as we broke the rules when we wanted anyway and tended to continue to sell where we could but, while we weren’t looking, PGW used their economy of scale, services, and discounting muscle with accounts to reformat the market so that everything came through them anyway, even the specific accounts that they ceded to us in the agreement. Our own sales base was steadily eroded by PGW’s expansion and subsequent intrusions. In many cases our so-called distributor aggressively took over our own accounts, underpricing us on our own books (a strategy later perfected by  We still had the “right,” or could sneak behind their back, but we didn’t have the market or the customers.  Their game was Make Love Not War.  Only substitute Margin for Love.

The game was changing, and people from our own social and professional world who knew the rules, both overt and covert, were now in charge and in their prime. PGW simply ignored and subsumed our activity. The old scale didn’t exist anymore, as the trivial exceptions were simply incorporated into mass merchandizing, either directly or through high-discount wholesalers.  Even if it took three middlemen to reach the market, it didn’t matter.  We had lost our autonomy.  Or we could get it back, but then we would lose the larger market to which we had become addicted.

For a while, though, during the eighties, we did have the best of both worlds: the right to sell directly to wholesalers like Bookpeople, New Leaf, and Wisdom Garden and, at the same time, the privilege to be repped to other wholesalers, chainstores, and independent bookstores by PGW.

Here is a brief chronicle of the years from 1980 to 2000. I have listed books per year mainly for the benefit of our current staff—so that they can see how the cows got into the pasture, given that most of them were there already and milling about in and amongst one another indistinguishably by they came to work at North Atlantic. I will discuss many of these titles in other contexts later, but this is a chronological overview:

1980: We copublished our first titles with Homeopathic Educational Services and put out Roy Rappaport’s ecological-anthropology text and our first t’ai-chi book: The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Literary Tradition, translated by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo, Martin Inn, Robert Amacker, and Susan Foe. We also published an anthology of spiritual astrology as an issue of Io (Star Rhythms, edited by William Lonsdale, an esoterically oriented astrologer whom I will discuss later). We extended our sports anthologizing to basketball with another Io anthology: Take It To the Hoop, edited by Daniel Rudman, a Berkeley playwright.

1981: We set up an Advisory Board for the publishing company: Andrew Weil (ethnobotany), Gary Snyder (poetry and community), Michael Palmer (poetry), Martin Inn (t’ai chi ch’uan), Dana Ullman (homeopathy), Jule Eisenbud (parapsychology), Charles Poncé (psychology), Nancy Todd (science education), Ishmael Reed (Third World literature), and Paul Pitchford[4] (Traditional Chinese Medicine, Buddhism, Taoism).

We declared affiliations with the following organizations: Ocean Arks, founded by John and Nancy Todd (developing educational materials on alternative technology while doing innovative work in water purification and Third World fisheries—John soon became a Native Arts and Sciences board member); Evergreen Foundation, run by Paul Pitchford (a regional alternative-medicine healing center in Moscow, Idaho[5]); Platonic Academy in Santa Cruz, California, managed by Paul Lee, briefly also a board member for us (developing educational materials on the growth, processing, uses, philosophy, and archetypes of Eastern and Western herbs); and Dana Ullman’s Homeopathic Educational Services [HES] with whom we copublished books.

Nonprofit status was granted on February 12, and Io and North Atlantic Books were formally donated to the Society on November 18. The two publishing entities were declared as 80% grant-funded and 20% sales-funded at the time.

That year we published a bilingual commentary on Chinese philosophy by Ben Lo’s late teacher, Cheng Man-Ch’ing—Lao-Tzu: My Words Are Very Easy to Understand—and a third homeopathic title with HES: Homeopathic Science and Modern Medicine by historian Harris Coulter.

1982: We wrote a mission statement to go on the copyright page of every book:

[Title of book] is sponsored by the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit educational corporation whose goals are to develop and ecological and crosscultural perspective linking various scientific, social, and artistic fields; to nurture a holistic view of arts sciences, humanities, and healing, and to publish and distribute literature on the relationship of mind, body, and nature.

These days I would append “spirit” to that list: “the interrelationship of spirit, mind, body, and nature.” A more melodramatic rubric in the nonprofit application was left out of the formal mission statement: “to provide tools for survival in the global crisis, to light candles to hand off to those who are passing through the present dark age of materialism in hopes that they will reach those, if there be any, on the other side.”

We diversified our martial-arts landscape by publishing Bira Almeida’s book on the Brazilian art capoeira. In line with this title, we applied to the Folk Arts Division of the NEA for a grant to train Bay Area school children in this musical fighting form. We succeeded in landing three full years of funding on the first try, our most notable nonprofit success beyond the publishing, even to this day.

We got the capoeira grant in part because our old Vermont compatriot, Ellen Lovell, who sponsored our maiden application to NEA, was not only now on the Folk Arts panel but a lover of Brazilian culture from her days as an exchange student there. The description of capoeira in the grant application says a lot about the evolving philosophy of the publishing company:

“Capoeira is a highly unusual folk art and combines a large number of diverse elements. As music alone, capoeira is one of Brazil’s major pop and folk traditions with its African and native South American instruments and themes. As dance, capoeira suggests, at the same time, such modern forms as contact improvisation and avant-garde choreography as well as the tribal rituals of Africa and Brazil, but its moves are primarily functional since capeoira began as a martial art.

“As in other internal martial arts (the Chinese form of t’ai chi ch’uan most notably), capoeira poses its steps and actions in terms of an ostensible opponent but, when these movements are ritualized and reinterpreted through the meditation of practice and the development of an artistic discipline, the opponent becomes, in a sense, the person himself (and herself), and what was once a battle becomes a game with the natural world and cosmic unity. According to one set of accounts capoeira was developed and formalized by African slaves in Brazil as a form of ‘soul music,’ which also offered the very practical possibility of escape.”

A new Io anthology was guest-edited by James Bogan and Fred Goss: Sparks of Fire: William Blake in a New Age. We also published Eduardo el Curandero: The Words of a Peruvian Healer, a bilingual transcription of Eduardo Calderon’s shamanic teaching from a film by Richard Cowan with back-up anthropology by Douglas and F. Kaye Sharon. Though the book didn’t sell much, it opened the territory of Peruvian shamanism.

We also packaged a book by John and Nancy Jack Todd; that is, North Atlantic was paid by Sierra Club Books to acquire, design, and prepare a manuscript from our old Vermont friends and Goddard College colleagues for their publication. Originally entitled Future Human Settlements: Ecological Design for the Human Spirit, it was ultimately issued by Sierra Club as Bioshelters, Ocean Arks, Fish Farms: Ecology as the Basis of Design. At the time, we weren’t a hefty enough publisher to take on such a significant environmental book so, when the Todds approached us with the concept, I turned to Sierra Club, my publisher for The Night Sky, to confer the mantle of legitimacy. It would be another five years or so before North Atlantic reached that level.

About ten years later, after Bioshelters went out of print with Sierra Club, North Atlantic re-released it as From Ecocities to Living Machines.

1983: We moved our publishing and our household from Richmond to Blake Street in Berkeley, two blocks below Telegraph, with a funky low-ceilinged basement becoming our new warehouse.

As a nonprofit, the Society took on additional affiliated organizations, more a gesture of self-definition than a gambit with any practical uses. These were: The Grain and Salt Society of Magalia, California, run by Jacques De Langre and devoted to the preservation of semi-wild grains and raw sea salts; a Camel Trek organized by Australian Aborigines and coordinated by Warwick Nieass with the goal of cataloguing and collecting indigenous foods and medicines, wild plants, stones, invertebrates, and products of trees and springs in the Australian outback; and the Asháninka Tribe, an Arawak-speaking group of about 20,000 in the eastern foothills of the Peruvian Andes, a project coordinated by Will Baker, a professor at UC/Davis, through earnings from his book Backward: An Essay on Indians, Time, and Photography. The Asháninka funds were devoted to the indigenes’ struggle to obtain community rights to traditional lands.

In 1983 we published Backward and, among other things: T’ai Chi Ch’uan: A Simplified Method of Calesthenics for Health and Self-Defense, our third book by Cheng Man-Ch’ing; Way of the Warrior (a compilation of tall tales of internal martial artists with superpowers) by historian and retired CIA agent Robert Smith writing under the pseudonym John Gilbey; Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, a screenplay by John Berger and Alain Tanner, translated from French by Michael Palmer; and a grant-funded literary issue of Io, Code of Signals, edited by Michael Palmer. In Code…Michael included a section of Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, which led to our publishing the entire book a few years later.

Backward was very well reviewed in national media, sold out one print run very quickly, and then stopped dead in its tracks. Jonah, despite its association with a prominent art film and a famous writer (Berger) never sold more than a handful of books. Lindy and I were reduced to standing outside of the local movie theater, hawking copies, whenever the Swiss film played. In those days, twenty copies on the street at full price represented a lot of cashflow.

1984: We added Richard Strozzi Heckler to the Advisory Board under the category: Aikido, Bodywork, and Teaching Warrior Values to youth. We also had our first “employees” ever: interns from Amherst College, two of them in January for a month and then three more in July-August.

We successfully submitted a grant to the San Francisco Foundation at the behest of Lindy’s friend, foundation director John Kriedler. His concept was that we would administer a program he innovated: Books for San Quentin Prison. The San Francisco Foundation would provide funds to pay publishers a modest unit fee to donate their surplus stock to inmates, thus benefiting two communities: presses and prisoners. Organized by North Atlantic Books for a year, this enterprise made us incredibly popular among local publishers, for we bought a lot of unsellable stock. By default I also was the one to cart the books into San Quentin, a sobering episode. To enter the building I had to sign a waiver acknowledging San Quentin’s absence of obligation to rescue me if I was taken hostage.

Among the titles we published that year were: Parapsychology and the Unconscious by Jule Eisenbud; Papers Toward a Radical Metaphysics, a Jungian psychology book by Charles Poncé; two novels that actually did well, the sad and humorous Growing up Bronx by Gerald Rosen and a revised edition of Elwyn Chamberlain’s much hyped and notorious Grove Press potboiler about sex and spirituality in India, Gates of Fire. There there were two grant-funded issues of Io: The first was Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior, edited by me and Lindy in an attempt to bring the samurai values of our martial-arts books together with geopolitical issues regarding atomic weaponry. The second was Burden of Dreams, edited by Les Blank and James Bogan, an anthology of film ethnography and cinema criticism around the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, a volume copublished with Blank’s Flower Films.

1985: Some titles published: Rio Tigre and Beyond by F. Bruce Lamb (Peruvian ethnobotany and shamanism); T’ai Chi Ch’uan Ta Wen: Questions and Answers on T’ai Chi Ch’uan (a translation of a traditional Chinese text); and three issues of Io: Sacred Theory of the Earth, edited by Thomas Frick; The Temple of Baseball (our second baseball anthology); and Aikido and the New Warrior, essays on the application of aikido to other therapeutic and practical disciplines, edited by Richard Strozzi Heckler.

1986: I identified the following as key future publishing territories worth being developed or enhanced:

  • Internal martial arts as a transformative cultural activity;
  • Developing peace-making skills and bringing conflict to creative fruition;
  • Holistic medicine as a source of diverse and wide-ranging techniques and paradigms for dealing with not only disease and health, but community well-being, and for redefining the basic ontological relationships between mind and body, matter and energy;
  • Critiques of overzealous authoritarian spiritual and psychospiritual systems;
  • The catastrophic effect of war and industry on the environment;
  • Amazonian shamanism and ethnobotany;
  • Independent investigations of the enigmatic objects revealed by 1976 NASA photographs of the Cydonia region of Mars, with an emphasis on the possibility of an extraterrestrial message;
  • Alternative theories of AIDS etiology and treatment;
  • A report on Richard Heckler’s Trojan Warrior project, his stint teaching of aikido and meditation to the Green Berets.

Some books published: Seven Herbs by Matthew Wood (American Indian and traditional Western interpretations of herbal use); Prenatal Yoga and Birth and Conscious Conception: Elemental Journey Through the Labyrinth of Sexuality by Jeannine Parvati (the latter with Frederick Baker—these were two phrases of a large overall copublishing venture brokered by Bookpeople between us and Freestone Press in Sevier, Utah, to be discussed later); Living Aikido by Bruce Klickstein; Western Boxing and World Wrestling by Robert Smith under the pseudonym John Gilbey; my own Embryogenesis from the Avon Books film (see Chapter One); and an Io anthology: Planetary Mysteries, a companion volume to Sacred Theory of the Earth.

Introducing the mysterious “face on Mars,” Planetary Mysteries also contained megaliths, Australian Aboriginal material, Egyptian Osiris mysteries, and Rob Brezsny’s iconic “Love Bomb” plus, in traditional Io fashion, a chunk out of Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations. It had to be published twice, as number 37 and then number 38, because the NASA contractor whose image of the Martian sphinx we were given by independent Mars investigator Richard Hoagland for the cover threatened to sue us unless we took the issue off the market. Since the book sold out quickly, we reprinted it with almost double the material and a more refined cover version of the face imaged by a different NASA contractor, our future author Mark Carlotto. For the second Planetary Mysteries we added a section from John Josselyn’s Account of Two Voyages to New-England as well as three of José Arguelles’ chapters from The Mayan Factor, a text that introduced the calendar end-date of December 2012 and the forthcoming harmonic convergence, a missed opportunity for the book itself that I will discuss in Chapter Eleven.

1987: This was a year of NASA “face” breakthrough for North Atlantic, as we published The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever by Richard C. Hoagland, North Atlantic’s first bona fide bestseller beyond the brief and precocious baseball-anthology splash (see Chapters Seven and Eight).

Some of the other books published in 1987: Homeopathy: Medicine for the Twenty-First Century by Dana Ullman; When Antibiotics Fail: Restoring the Ecology of the Body by Marc Lappé (a reissue of Doubleday’s Germs That Won’t Die); Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future by Richard Register; AIDS and Syphilis: The Hidden Link by Harris Coulter; Animated Earth (a book on Peruvian whistling jugs as shamanic objects) by Daniel Statnekov; Rowdy Richard by Dick Bartell with Norman Macht (a baseball history of the twenties and thirties); and two anthologies as issues of Io: Dreams Are Wiser Than Men, edited by Richard Russo, and our third baseball collection: The Dreamlife of Johnny Baseball. We also re-released two other, popular books that had gone out of print with mainstream publishers in the post-Thor days: Wizard of the Upper Amazon by F. Bruce Lamb and Education and Ecstasy by George Leonard.

1988: We moved North Atlantic Books to Woolsey Street. By now our son Robin was in college at UC/Santa Cruz and our daughter Miranda was in high school.

Books published in the year of the move: Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power by Peter Ralston (a philosophical investigation into the mechanics behind all martial arts); My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe; Jung and Reich: The Body as Shadow by John Conger; Quonset Huts on the River Styx: The Bomb Shelter Design Book by Artists, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility (the only title I know of which begins with “Q” and ends with “X”); Bioenegetic Medicines East and West: Homeopathy and Acupuncture by Clark A. Manning and Louis J. Vanrenen (copublished with HES); and one Classic Throwback issue of Io: Being = Space x Action, edited by old friend Charles Stein, concerning the relationships among mathematics, art, mysticism, and literature.

1989: We expanded to two part-time employees, one of them Kathy Glass, who not only carried out all the office duties but was a crack editor and still works freelance for us.

Some titles published in our second year on Woolsey: In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets by Richard Strozzi Heckler; Exploring Inner and Outer Space by former astronaut Brian O’Leary; Thai Cooking from the Siam Cuisine Restaurant by Kwanruan Aksomboon, Somchai Aksomboom, and Diana Hiranaga; Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Guide to Food; and an offbeat history of homeopathy copublished with HES: A Homeopathic Love Story by Rima Handley.

The authors of the Thai cookbook were directed to us by Charlie Winton, af0re-mentioned founder and CEO of Publishers Group West, for their own in-house publishing venture had not yet been launched.  Once it was, they would not have thought of such a redirect; they would have gobbled it right up under one imprint or other. We also began copublishing with the Japanese Cultural Center and Domo Restaurant, a magical place that my daughter Miranda and I stumbled upon while wandering around downtown Denver during a trip there to visit Lindy’s mother.

1990: We provided a new list of potential topics to the Board:

  • The treatment of children by alternative medicines;
  • Controversies surrounding vaccinations;
  • Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines;
  • The relation of diet, consciousness, and ethics;
  • Martial arts as ontology;
  • Oral history and ethnography of pop culture;
  • Buddhism and Hinduism;
  • Indigenous, spiritual, and outsider art.

Some titles published in 1990: Aikido for Life and The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking, both books by Gaku Homma and copublished with the Japanese Cultural Center; Cheng Hsin Tui Shou: The Art of Effortless Power by Peter Ralston; The Immunization Decision by Randall J. Neustaedter and Childhood Ear Infections by Michael A. Schmidt (both copublished with HES); Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith; The Complete Book of Flowers (ethnohorticulture, flower craft, and flower foods) by Denise Diamond; Mending the Earth, edited by my uncle Paul Rothkrug (an Io); Archetype of the Unconscious and the Transfiguration of Therapy by Charles Poncé; and Magic by the Bay by John Shea and John Hickey (an account of the earthquake-interrupted Bay Bridge World Series of the previous year).

1991: This was the year of the birth of a full-fledged North Atlantic Books somatics publishing program. I had been studying bodywork hands-on for a year by then as one of three non-practitioners in a one-morning-a-week course in Corte Madera taught by Randy Cherner, a colleague of Richard Strozzi Heckler at the Lomi School. I was learning Feldenkrais and craniosacral techniques, also a bit of Polarity, Breema, and some general osteopathy.

Among the somatic projects I initiated in 1991 were:

1. Copublishing with the Upledger Institute where the most popular and recognized branch of craniosacral therapy was developed and taught. I discovered that the Institute had a poorly produced book at the core of their outreach program. Randy Cherner meanwhile had told me that John Upledger, the Institute’s founder and the book’s author, was recommending my Embryogenesis to his students. With this entrée I contacted the Institute and, through Dr. John’s son John Matthew, made a proposal to re-do their book and copublish it. He thought about it for a while and finally accepted. In 1991 we released our new edition of Dr. Upledger’s Your Inner Physician and You: Craniosacral Therapy and Somatoemotional Release.

Subsequently, on a visit to the Institute, John Matthew and we agreed to co-venture a list of trade books and texts (more on this negotiation later). (Dr. Upledger also successfully treated our son Robin in 1994 after he developed a rare neuromuscular disease and was in a wheelchair. The neutrality of my recounting the matter here should not belie the emotionally moving event that the ordeal was.)

2. Copublishing with Feldenkrais Resources (also called Somatic Resources). This joint venture was established on the model of our long-time relationship with Homeopathic Educational Resources and evolved after I met Feldenkrais’ director, Elizabeth Beringer, at a hypnosis course that I took as an offshoot of my training with Randy. We began by publishing current somatic writers and Feldenkrais practitioners and then picked up books by Moshe Feldenkrais himself as they went out of print with other publishers.

3. Copublishing a series of educational anthologies with the Somatics Graduate Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) run by Don Hanlon Johnson, a former Rolfer. I met Don through Elizabeth, as we and Feldenkrais Resources copublished two of his own books (the first being a reprint of Body: Recovering Our Sensual Wisdom in 1992).

Elizabeth also put me in touch with Marion Rosen, founder of her own somatics sytem, and we published her and Sue Brenner’s just-completed book Rosen Method of Moving.

In 1991 we finally completed a long-dormant project, Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman by Luis Eduardo Luna and Pablo Amaringo, an oversize, color artbook with commentary. Meanwhile, by buying four student paintings, our nonprofit provided additional financial support for Pablo’s training center for young artists in Pucallpa, Peru—the USKO-AYAR-Amazonian School of Painting. When Luis first approached us with Ayahuasca Visions three years earlier in the aftermath of our publication of Bruce Lamb’s books about shamanic botany in Peru, we were not in a position either logistically or financially to handle a project of this scope. By 1991 it was right at our edge.

Some other books published that year: The Dance of Becoming: Living Life as a Martial Art by Stuart Heller; DNA and the I Ching by Johnson Yan; Martian Enigmas—The Face, Pyramids, and Other Unusual Objects on Mars—A Closer Look by Mark J. Carlotto; Northshore Chronicles: Big-Wave Surfing in Hawaii by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins; New Model of Health and Disease by Greek homeopath George Vithoulkas; Kitchen Cosmetics by Jeanne Rose; The Subtle Self by Judith Blackstone (a somatics book); and Long Life, Good Health Through T’ai Chi Ch’uan by Simmone Kuo. We also copublished four titles with HES: Discovering Homeopathy by Dana Ullman (a revision of his previous book); The Homeopathic Treatment of Children by Paul Herscu; Homeopathic Pediatrics by Randall J. Neustaedter; and Sports and Exercise Injuries by Steven Subotnick.

1991 was the last year of business as usual, although we didn’t see it coming. In 1992 we changed the entire play: theater, props, and actors. If Amherst was Act One, Ann Arbor through the founding of North Atlantic Act Two, and the move to California and incorporation of the publishing as a nonprofit Act Three, it was now time, a decade-plus later, for the high drama of Act Four.

Chapter 3: North Atlantic Books History 2: 1992-2000 | Table of Contents


See also New Moon, approximately pp. 416-448, for a narrative of the events around the Halloween ceremony, Robert Kelly, and the founding of Io.
An interesting footnote to the Eastman Fund story is that Plimpton checked first with his nephew George, mailing him some of my writing for an opinion. Apparently George gave his approval. By thirty or so years later, George Plimpton was an established figure in the New York literary scene and editor of The Paris Review. He knew us from this inquiry long ago and became a contributor to Io’s baseball anthologies and one of the founding investors in our company Frog, Ltd. (see the next chapter).
See New Moon, pp. 453- 483 et seq. for these events wrapped into other stories.
Over a decade later Pitchford became the author of our bestselling title Healing With Whole Foods.
We later wrote grants to try to fund Evergreen’s psychospiritual healing camps and purchase land for them, and we even briefly considered moving to Idaho, making a bid on a house in Moscow.  Nothing came of any of it.

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