Kim Robinson, regional publisher, UC Press

Kim Robinson moved to Berkeley a year ago to take a job as regional publisher of UC Press. Her mandate: enhance the number and quality of books published on California and the West.

That might seem obvious for a university press based in Berkeley. But it wasn’t. While UC Press has always published books examining various facets of the West, it made a point not to publish too many for fear it would be labeled a regional rather than national press. But now that UC Press is one of the largest and most distinguished in the United States — and it is 117 years old — it can more closely examine its own backyard.

Enter Robinson, 41. Born in Phoenix, she spent more than 10 years in New York working for various publishing companies, including the venerable Oxford University Press, one of the world’s largest (Cambridge University Press is also enormous.) She was hired not only to publish more scholarly and general trade titles about California, but to work on expanding UC Press’ digital and Internet offerings.

One of the first projects Robinson tackled was the creation of a new magazine called Boom: A Journal of California, which will blend journalism, academic inquiries, photography, personal narrative and reviews. Funded with a $722,000 grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the core of each issue of Boom will be two essays exploring critical issues facing the state.  The first issue won’t come out until 2011, but it will examine California’s referendum process, said Robinson.

As Louis Warren, one of Boom’s co-editors, puts it:  “One in eight residents of the U.S. lives in California, and the state has become an unprecedented cultural, economic, and political force in the U.S. and abroad. And yet, no journal has explored the origins and meaning of today’s California in an interdisciplinary and intellectual way. With Boom, we aim to fix that.”

Some of Robinson’s other initiatives:

  • An encyclopedia of California, with entries about important events and people in the development of the state.
  • WPA guides to San Francisco and Los Angeles. UC Press will reissue these in 2010.
  • A new series called Western Histories. The first book, now out, is The Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power, and Patriarchy in Mexican California, written by Louise Pubols, the curator of history at the Oakland Museum. It examines an early and influential family from Santa Barbara.
  • Robinson hopes to enhance UC Press’ on-line offerings and sees a future in e-books that blend scholarship with innovative 3-D graphics like mapping or architectural renderings.

2009 was a difficult year for UC Press, as it was for other publishers, both academic and trade. The press ran a deficit and its 140-person staff was furloughed along with other employees of the University of California. Still, the press published around 200 books and 40 multi-issue journals and maintained a backlist of 4,000 titles, with 700 books also available in an e-book format. Its books also won numerous awards. The foundation supporting the press completed a $5.2 million fundraising campaign, which will greatly strengthen its endowment.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...