Santa Cruz’s Catamaran Literary Reader reaches 10-year landmark

Catamaran's founding editor, Catherine Segurson, in her office at the Tannery Arts Center
Catamaran’s founding editor, Catherine Segurson, in her office at the Tannery Arts Center: “I’m sorta like the little wizard behind the curtain.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The quarterly publication that’s a balance of fine literature and fine art, text and imagery, is the brainchild of Catherine Segurson, who stands atop of pyramid of editors, donors and contributors. “In a way, 10 years feels like a long time,” she says of Catamaran. “But it also feels like we’re just now hitting our stride.”

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We live in a world of screens and tablets and phones, in the late twilight of the print media, where the “Daddy, what’s a magazine?” conversation is right around the corner, if it hasn’t arrived already.

And yet, in this same pitiless digital world, this thing called Catamaran has lived for 10 years. How is that even possible?

Technically, Catamaran Literary Reader is a quarterly literary/arts journal, born in Santa Cruz in 2012 and is preparing to mark its double-digit anniversary with a celebration at the Museum of Art & History on Oct. 20.

But pick up an issue of Catamaran, and you might realize that it’s not just another magazine. In many ways, it’s the platonic ideal of a magazine. First off, the thing is heavy. It has weight to it. It also has a pleasing, kinda gritty texture on its cover. The pages give off that kind of aroma that excites only book lovers.

And inside is 144 pages of mostly ad-free content — poems, short stories, essays, paintings, prints, photographs — all of it in service of articulating a distinctly coastal, Northern California view of the world. What’s more, the look, feel and format of Catamaran has barely changed, if at all, over its 10-year lifespan.

Catamaran is only one of several hundred literary magazines in circulation in the U.S., and it’s not among the most famous or elite journals. But while many are supported by a university or some other large institution, Catamaran is not. And while the lifespan of most literary magazines isn’t more than a few years, Catamaran has reached a milestone of stability at 10.

The founding editor of Catamaran — circulation about 3,000 — is painter, videographer and writer Catherine Segurson, who came out of the Master of Fine Arts program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco to work at two high-profile literary magazines, Zoetrope: All Story and ZYZZYVA. She then moved to Santa Cruz, where she worked to establish her own literary magazine, inspired by the example of George Hitchcock, who ran Kayak, Santa Cruz’s premier literary journal in the 1970s.

Segurson’s original vision was to balance fine literature and fine art, to serve both writers and visual artists. And she’s maintained that balance to this day. As a result, the magazine is not — like many literary journals — only a cascade of gray text. Its columns of words exist right alongside bursts of color and imagery. The fall 2022 issue, for instance, featured the work of more than a dozen visual artists, each given a full-page treatment and even careful consideration of placement. Segurson calls the approach “a narrative between art and writing.”

The fall 2022 issue of Catamaran.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I curate the written content first,” she said, “and then I curate the art to go with it. So every story and every poem has its own specially curated artwork. Then every poem we treat like art itself, it gets a full page with its companion artwork. And that’s a real luxury for the poet because [often] they’re sort of crammed in accordance with the text. And we’ve done that throughout the magazine. It’s not like the art illustrates the writing. It’s more like it’s saying something similar to the written prose or poetry.”

Segurson stands atop a pyramid of people who make sure this beautiful artifact is released into the world four times a year. Novelist Elizabeth McKenzie and poet Zack Rogow have been with her from the beginning of the journal. There are several others who serve as editors and interns, several more who serve on the magazine’s board of directors and advisory board. And there are a few hundred people and organizations who donate to the nonprofit to pay for all that high-quality paper and ink.

Then there are the contributors themselves. Catamaran occasionally publishes the work of superstar writers and artists, most notably Santa Cruz novelists Jonathan Franzen and Karen Joy Fowler, and the late painter Wayne Thiebaud, one of California’s most recognizable artists. Other “brand names” that have been in Catamaran include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, T.C. Boyle and several poets who have served as U.S. poet laureate. But mostly, the magazine offers a chance to publish to rank-and-file writers and artists, many of them from Santa Cruz County. As of the latest issue, said Segurson, Catamaran has published the work of 1,614 writers and artists (full disclosure: I myself have been published twice in Catamaran).

“It’s not necessarily our mission to publish the big names,” she said, “because they don’t really need us, necessarily. They’re already established. But what they like to do is help the other [contributors] just by being in the magazine. They understand that having their work appear alongside these other newer people helps those people.”

Other than making sure there’s a strong representation from Santa Cruz-based writers and artists, Segurson’s vision has always been about curating Catamaran to make it feel like a product of a specific place, in this case Monterey Bay and Central Coast of California, even if that association is more implicit than explicit.

“Every issue, I start with very ocean-themed works,” she said of the themes of the visual arts contributions in the magazine. “And then I move into environmentally themed land-based work, just to make it feel like it’s coming from here.”

Though from the outside Catamaran appears to be as stable an arts institution as any in Santa Cruz, on the inside, said Segurson, the reality is often a bit more chaotic.

“Well, behind the scenes, there’s been changes in printers. There’ve been changes in costs and paper. There’ve been changes in shipping,” she said. “[One time], there was a whole shipment of an issue with one of the colors missing and we had to do it all over again. But we just kind of figure it out each time.”

From its office at the Tannery Arts Center, Catamaran has consistently hit the mark for 10 years, meeting the standards it set for itself early on, producing a coffee-table keepsake four times a year, giving exposure and the satisfaction of publishing to dozens of writers and artists (the most recent issue lists more than 40 contributors). It also does what many of the more successful literary journals do, holding an annual writers conference and weekend workshops, sponsoring an annual poetry prize. Still, every issue feels like climbing the mountain all over again, said Segurson.

“I’m sorta like the little wizard behind the curtain,” she said. “But part of what we can give back to people who are in the magazine is to make them look good. And that helps. They’ll show the magazine to potential publishers. Artists will get grants from it. But on the back end, we don’t have any kind of infrastructure. We’re not a big bureaucracy. We don’t have tons of funding, or anything. So it’s always a struggle to get to the next one.”

As for Catamaran’s next 10 years, Segurson said, “I think we’re just going to try to keep going. In a way, 10 years feels like a long time. But it also feels like we’re just now hitting our stride. It’s taken us this long to get where we’re more recognized now. And I feel like the next 10 years, we could really get established.”

The magazine gives its founding editor a payoff, too, every time the shipment of the next issue comes in: “You know, it never gets old. To hold the physical copy and go through it page by page, it’s just so thrilling. It’s this physical, tangible thing in the world.”


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