Maybe it's time for a new bloom to grow in the field where Hitchcock once tilled.
The new Santa Cruz-based magazine Catamaran Literary Reader opens that new era on Friday with a splashy launch party near its offices at the Tannery Arts Center. In its introduction by its founding editor Catherine Segurson, and in its concluding pages, Catamaran pays homage to Kayak. And though the new journal's title suggests it's picking up Hitchcock's mantle — a catamaran and a kayak are both floating conveyances, right? — Segurson said Catamaran is its own creature.
"We're not picking up where they left off, or doing anything that is similar to them," she said. "We decided to do an homage because it was such a wonderful magazine."
It also is a reminder that Santa Cruz had a rich literary history and, in Hitchcock's time, the area was replete with respected writers, novelists and poets from James D. Houston to William Everson to Adrienne Rich to Morton Marcus.
But one look at Catamaran's inaugural issue is an assertion for Santa Cruz's here and now.
The handsome new journal is not explicitly a Santa Cruz product, at least in its theme. But there is an implicit California aesthetic that runs throughout it. The first issue features essays, short fiction, poetry and lots of great visual art as well and the contributor list is heavy with Santa Cruz names such as Gary Young, Dee Hooker, Stephen Kessler, Andrea Borsuk, Ursula O'Farrell, Wallace J. Nichols and Alan Cheuse. But it also contains names that are national figures from the celebrated historian Douglas Brinkley, the beloved California painter Wayne Thiebaud, the great American poet Galway Kinnell and the eccentric but hard-hitting novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle.
The quarterly Catamaran brought about this opening bounty with the help of a team that includes Segurson, novelist Elizabeth McKenzie, poetry editor Zack Rogow, nonfiction editor Thomas Christensen, contributing editor Dan White and designer Brad Sharek.
Before deciding to embark on her Catamaran journey, founding editor Segurson said she thought long and hard about the popular perception of the tide going out on "dead tree" or printed material. But her research found a different story, that while yes, printed versions of commercial magazines and newspapers are struggling to maintain their existence, printed literary journals are, in fact, thriving.
"This is much different (from magazines and newspapers)," she said. "In the realm of literary magazines, it's actually increasing in popularity. More and more of these are starting up. With these kinds of magazines, it's the print version that is the coveted thing. It's like art work. People collect them, because later on, you never know where these authors are going to go."
The themes of Catamaran are designed to reflect certain themes inherent in West Coast living — respect for the environment, the artistic spirit, creativity and innovation, and the freedom to pursue one's muse wherever that might lead.
For instance, Douglas Brinkley contributes a trenchant essay on the publication of "This is the American Earth" by the Sierra Club more than 50 years ago, presaging the mainstream environmental movement. Elsewhere, Stephen Kessler meditates on the life and influence of Robinson Jeffers, the icon of California poetry and the Big Sur way of life.
The visual art that is throughout the magazine was edited by Segurson, and she makes an effort to include more than one piece from her selected artists. And those too reflect a decidedly West Coast sensibility without drawing attention to itself, such as Ran Ortner's moody and intimidating images of the surface of the ocean and Tom Killion's magnificent woodcut-style prints.
Segurson emerged from the MFA program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. From there, she edited the Zoetrope literary journal and worked on the board of another San Francisco journal, Zyzzyva. She turned down the opportunity to edit Zyzzyva because she had moved to Santa Cruz, but brought in Zyzzyva's long-time editor Howard Junker as an advisor when she decided to start Catamaran.
Segurson is herself a writer, painter and video producer. She had applied and was granted a studio space at the Tannery Arts Center on the strength of her work, and partly because of her versatility as an artist. It was not until she came into her space in the summer of 2011 that she had decided what was needed at the Tannery was a literary presence.
"I asked them at the Tannery, 'Do you have literary arts?' and they had no literary representation," said Segurson from her office facing the courtyard in new Tannery studio complex. "So it's on the courtyard, there was going to be a café opening, it's kind of like a storefront. It seemed like a social, public space. Why not a literary magazine?"
Soon after, she brought in Junker for a brainstorming session — "He was the mentor, been with me the whole way, answering all my questions" — and he told her to get together a team, which led to the recruiting of Elizabeth McKenzie, Zach Rogow and the others.
One of her main efforts from the beginning was to give visual artists a real avenue for expression in what is often thought of as mainly a platform for writers.
"Because I've been a visual artist so long and I know the struggle to get your own style out there, I've noticed that a literary magazine puts in art for aesthetics and not for the sake of the art. It's just sort of thrown in where they need a picture. A literary magazine that treats visual artists with equal weight as the writers is rare, and that's what I wanted to do."
But, she said, her mission is make sure that all the material, visual and literary, holds together on a theme.
"I like to tell authors that this magazine has a California feel, a West Coast feel. I really want it to feel like it comes from here."