40 Years of Ulysses Press
- Book Lovers
It all began with a stack of note cards, Hawaii, and a “yes.” What is now a successful, unique, and trendy indie press started as a dream in Berkeley, California in the late 70s. Big hair, lava lamps and hippie culture were on the rise and Ray Riegert, the future founder of Ulysses Press, had just started as editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Barb, a radical left wing newspaper. And because all success stories tend to include some beginner’s misfortune, he got “unceremoniously fired.” This didn’t stop him from wanting to continue to pursue a career in publishing and thus he began to work for a small independent publisher based out of San Francisco called And/Or Press.
Ray decided that he wanted to write the Ultimate Travel Adventurer’s Guide to Hawaii. And with a “yes” from the editors and a good advance, he set off to the beautiful islands to write and research. Camping in nearby areas during the night, and reviewing hotels during the day he created Hidden Hawaii in six months. “When I was growing up he always would write his books on notecards, so he would come home with this huge stack of notecards,” his son, Keith, tells us. The note cards were a staple during his time in Hawaii, and they continued to be so for years to come.
Hawaii was not only the setting for a success story, but also the start of a love story. It was on the island of Oahu where Ray met and fell in love with Leslie Henriques. Leslie was finishing her Masters of Public Health in the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and soon after they moved back to Berkeley to await the release of Hidden Hawaii. The success of the first edition was immediate and exponential. However, And/Or went out of business and they weren’t able to pay the royalties the book had achieved. The owner decided it was best to give him ownership of the book and all the files for Ray to succeed elsewhere. Which is how Ulysses Press, named after James Joyce’s Ulysses, was founded and Hidden Hawaii became the first book published.
“He was very much at the vanguard of that,” Keith states, as his father launched Hidden Hawaii before travelogs and adventure guides became trendy. Hidden Hawaii became the first of its kind, as the travel list continued to grow.
The company that now has two offices–one in Berkeley, California and the other one in Brooklyn, New York–began as a small front room in the Riegert household. But with success and expansion in their eyesight, Ray and Leslie moved out of their home office and hired their first ever official full time employee; Claire Chun. They met Claire as a freshman in college and both Ray and Leslie saw the promise of greatness. Thirty years later, Claire now works as the Director of Production, and continues to be a part of the Ulysses Press family. “People ask me why I’ve stayed for so long and do the same thing over and over again and the truth of that is that Ulysses Press is a big family that cares and values you as a person, opposed to a commodity. The work that we do is unique and a place that allows for growth and expansion. It is an intimate company where we still get a chance to push forward and succeed in what we set out to do,” Claire says.
Ulysses Press received numerous accolades for their rapid success, but in the early 2000s, when the Internet and its power started taking over, travel guides seemed to be losing their momentum, and Ray and the team decided the company needed a new focus. It was with the release of Bookscan in 2001 that we really changed into what we have today.
“My dad says that that was the moment he was waiting for a long time,” says Keith, referring to when market research changed from visiting bookstores and checking copyright pages to mining online data that could be useful for future releases. Using those new data sources, Ulysses Press published the New York Times Bestseller “What Would Happen in Harry Potter 7” in 2007 and it launched the company into the world of pop culture.
Ulysses Press has had 40 years of excellence, from winning PW’s Fast-Growing Independent Publishers Award in 2021 and 2022 to handful of books reaching best sellers lists. But what makes Ulysses Press so successful is the team of talented individuals that continue to forge the company’s values and throw their passion into their everyday work.
“The flexibility and creativity to make and do anything, ” says Casie Vogel, VP and Publisher, when asked what her favorite thing about work at Ulysses Press is. “If you can imagine it and make a case for it, the world is your oyster at Ulysses Press.”
“Ray is the foundation of Ulysses Press, and Keith is bringing us into the future,” says Claire Chun. As CEO, Keith continues to share the passion for data driven books that his father has. Keith reminisces on writing articles side by side with Ray, his first big article being one on “Space Camp” when he was 9 years old. “That stuck with me for a very long time,” he says as he realized at a young age he wanted to be a writer and keep the family’s legacy. He continued to major in English Literature and in 2008 he came to work at Ulysses Press as an Acquisitions Editor. The goal to continue to expand was still in everyone’s mind, so in 2011 after meeting his wife Jen, Keith took Ulysses Press to the Big Apple, opening the doors to the second office in Brooklyn, New York, and eventually becoming the CEO of the company.
New York was a new era for Ulysses Press and more talent joined the company throughout the years, talent that has stayed and made Ulysses Press their home. A place for dreamers, a place where ideas become reality, and where a simple “yes” started a decades-long journey for a team of readers and writers.