Noel, Noel Young
By John McKinney
At Christmastime every year, I always think of Noel Young, memorable Santa Barbaran, one of California’s great literary publishers, born on Christmas day in 1922.
Noel always used to tell the story of how he ended up in Santa Barbara: his car broke down in the sleepy little coastal town in the early 1950s. A printer by trade, he found work here and soon began printing leading West Coast literary efforts, including most of the early books from Black Sparrow Press.
In the late 1960s, he ventured into publishing, founding Capra Press and publishing more than a hundred titles in the first 10 years by such esteemed authors as Henry Miller, Gretel Ehrlich, Lawrence Durrell, James D. Houston, Anais Nin, Andrei Codrescu, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, John Sanford, Lawrence Clark Powell, Erica Jong, Thomas Sanchez, Kay Boyle, Kenneth Patchen, Robert Kirsch, Ross Macdonald, Jack Schaefer and Gerald Haslam.
Capra Press editorial offices were on the second floor of the Fithian Building on the corner of State and Ortega streets, but Noel really conducted business—and hosted the best conversations about books and life—over beers, lots of them, at Joe’s Café just down State Street, and at the home he built for himself and family on Mountain Drive.
Noel had a keen appreciation for the California lifestyle. Many evenings ended out on the Young’s back deck in his redwood hot tub. Noel Young promoted the restorative attributes of the hot tub in a very popular book, “Hot Tubs: How to Build, Maintain and Enjoy,” authored by his pseudonymous alter-ego, Leon Elder.
At Christmastime 1980, Noel Young agreed to publish my first book, “Day Hiker’s Guide to Southern California.” By the time the book was released in the spring of 1981, Noel and his circle of colorful characters had convinced me to move to Santa Barbara.
Before Noel died in 2002, his Capra Press published about 300 fiction and nonfiction books by both well-known and unknown writers. He launched my career as a writer, and many, many others.
As we used to say to him during the Yule season: “Noel, Noel.”