Pasadena Board of Education member and author Elizabeth Pomeroy on politics, publishing and Many Moons Press
By Justin Chapman 12/26/2013
Elizabeth Pomeroy has always been interested in historical literature. As a graduate student at UC Berkeley she wrote a book about Queen Elizabeth I. As a columnist for the Pasadena Star-News she penned weekly treatises on local historical treasures in and around San Gabriel Valley and beyond. So it came as no surprise when she founded Many Moons Press in 2000, which has been a vehicle to publish her own work as well as local authors with books of California history, nature and literature.
She is a woman who wears many hats —indie publisher, city historian, college professor and local politician. She has served as board member of the Pasadena Historical Society, the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee, the Sierra Club and the city’s Recreation and Parks and Library commissions. She was reelected earlier this year to her seat on the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education. She also attended events this summer to help celebrate the city of San Marino’s centennial year.
Having read her “Lost and Found” columns for the Star-News, which made up her first book, the San Marino Historical Society enlisted her to write the city’s history. It was released as her latest book, “San Marino: A Centennial History.” After taking two years to finish that project, she is now ready to get back to Many Moons Press.
A new look
“We do have a new project,” Pomeroy said. “Some of what we’ve published has been reprints of wonderful old books that have gone out of print. They all focused on Southern California. What we’re working on now is a new edition of ‘The Southern Sierras of California’ by Charles Francis Saunders. This is a view from the 1920s about our local mountains and what they were like long before the Angeles Crest Highway, when the only way to get up there, to what we now know as Red Box and Chilao and Switzer’s Camp. Right now, those are all along the highway, but they used to be just wild places where people went on foot, horseback, mule, trains and all that.”
The newest addition to the Many Moons family will be released in spring. The original version of “Southern Sierras,” published in 1923, is a hardcover with that centuries-old book feel. Many Moons will be releasing it as a soft cover book with a new cover design by Hortensia Chu, who is giving a uniform look to Many Moons’ books. Chu also designed the micropress’ logo. The cover will be a new painting done by local artist Joseph Stoddard.
So far, Many Moons has published eight books. Pomeroy herself has written six: her doctoral dissertation, which is a literary study; her renaissance literature book about Queen Elizabeth I; a book about the Huntington Library, where she was a reader and worked on the development staff from 1975-85; her newspaper columns as “Lost and Found”; a book about John Muir; and the San Marino centennial book.
She worked at the Huntington at a time when admission was free of charge, which she said was in Mr. Huntington’s will. That was later overturned and now they charge. Even there she employed her love of writing and history.
“Since I was a writer, and writers apply their writing in lots of different ways,” she said, “I wrote a lot of grant proposals and I wrote about the Huntington to persuade people to give grants and support.”
Pomeroy was a teacher’s aide at Berkeley and UCLA, and she has taught at middle schools, high schools and universities, but her favorite teaching experience has been at Pasadena City College, where she taught English classes for 10 years.
“I loved doing that,” she said. “There was so much diversity of the students. Many Spanish speaking, many Asian students. I learned from them. Students were engaged and I really enjoyed finding out about their cultures, getting them to write about growing up in China or Mexico or Honduras or wherever it was.”
Her last year at PCC was 2009, before some of the turmoil that has roiled the campus as of late, such as the several votes of no confidence in President Mark Rocha, the hasty cancellation of the popular Winter Intersession and sexual controversies surrounding two professors.
“I wonder if what’s happening at PCC is partly a result of this time of scarcity that we’ve been having,” said Pomeroy. “When there are scarce resources then people get more adversarial and possibly it damages the sense of sharing or collegiality. I am aware that the PCC administration is being pretty receptive now to initiatives from PUSD about building some of these bridges, like our high school and college English and math teachers conferring. What do students need to know before they come to PCC? The president of the college also comes to a lot of our school district activities.”
When she was finishing up at PCC she was recruited by the National Women’s Political Caucus to run for the school board.
“That was the connection right there,” she said. “When I finished with teaching and I had more time, as a teacher at PCC, I could tell that some students came without having done much writing. Even though they had finished high school, their writing was pretty primitive. By being on the school board and getting very familiar with at least our local high schools, I could see some things that could be improved.”
A learning curve
Pomeroy said that the National Women’s Political Caucus, based in Pasadena, was interested in her running for the school board because up to that point there had either been one or no women on the board. Some good friends of hers who are out to get more women into elected office urged her to run.
“I’m not especially a political animal, but I’m very devoted to education, as I’ve either been a teacher or student or both for my whole life,” she said. “It was a learning curve, all the policy matters, the budget, so many state mandates and issues that I had to learn about.”
She joined the board at a time when the political hostility of its members was particularly pronounced. She said that perhaps school boards are especially prone to that type of rancor, even more so than city councils or other bodies. Nonetheless, she remained on good terms with people who otherwise didn’t like each other. She found common ground with each board member on which to maintain working relationships.
“I tried to stay out of the fray,” she said. “And I wouldn’t say ‘above’ the fray because that wasn’t it, but I just tried to stay out of the arguments and work with each person on the things that we cared about.” n
To learn more about Pomeroy’s publishing company, visit manymoonspress.com.