A Historic First from Idaho
By Alessandro Meregaglia
One focus of my work as an archivist and librarian at Boise State University is to research the history of The Caxton Printers, a publishing house that has been located in Caldwell for more than a hundred years. Since its founding in 1907, it has been owned and operated by descendants of the founder, James H. Gipson, who offered an unusual philosophy: “We are interested not in making money out of any author for whom we may publish, but in helping him.”
In researching the company’s history, I’ve traveled across the country to track down archival sources and to interview people associated with Caxton. I’ve come across correspondence between Gipson and President Theodore Roosevelt (Gipson headed up Idaho’s Bull Moose campaign in 1912), the poet Ezra Pound (who was born in Idaho), and the arch-libertarian Ayn Rand (Caxton published the first hardback American edition of her novella, Anthem).
I even discovered an unpublished manuscript—a guidebook to Boise—written by Idaho novelist Vardis Fisher in the 1930s for the Federal Writers Project [see “Vardis Fisher on Boise,” IDAHO magazine, January 2020]. Sitting untouched in the Library of Congress for eighty years, the guidebook was slated to be published by Caxton in 1939. A confluence of forces prevented the volume’s publication at the time. After finding it, I edited it, incorporated historical photographs, and Boise’s Rediscovered Books published it in 2019 as Vardis Fisher’s Boise.
But for all my time learning about Caxton, I had not heard of Yokohama, California, a collection of short stories written by Toshio Mori and published by the company in 1949. In early 2020, just before the pandemic began, a friend who had recently acquired a copy of this book asked if I knew anything about it. Although I did not, over the next two years I would come to learn much about it, about Toshio Mori, and about the complicated history of how Yokohama, California got published in Idaho.
After my friend alerted me to the book, I set to work researching. Multiple sources referred to it as the first book of fiction by a Japanese American. I was astounded that it had been published in Idaho. Toshio Mori is by no means an unknown author. Scholars have been writing about him and analyzing his stories for decades. A collection of unpublished stories and other writings, Unfinished Message, appeared posthumously in 2000, and Mori’s short stories have been excerpted in dozens of textbooks. I wanted to know how a small Idaho company had secured Yokohama, California under its imprint—a story no one had told.