A decade of publishing San Diego’s literary community

Kelly Mayhew’s 10 years of community building at City Works Press

Rutger Rosenborg

“I am not alone,” Kelly Mayhew says. She stops typing on her keyboard, allowing the light percussion of keystrokes to dissipate into the gentle background music hovering around the room. “I’m part of the San Diego Writers Collective.”

After forming the San Diego Writers Collective in 2003, Mayhew co-founded City Works Press at San Diego City College in 2005. She is careful to point out that she wasn’t alone in this effort, and that she co-founded the nonprofit publishing company with her partner, Jim Miller, who is also a City College professor.

City Works Press, according to the publisher mission statement, focuses on San Diego’s literary scene, as opposed to bigger cities such as New York or Los Angeles. Mayhew’s mission is to build a local literary community that is less concerned with mass-market and more concerned with the locale.

According to Mayhew, there are a lot of San Diego writers doing great work, but their work is largely unsung. As managing editor of City Works, she curates each book to showcase experimental form, progressive politics and new voices. Mayhew publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction and academic writing from both veteran authors and also unpublished writers.

Mayhew herself is no stranger to authorship. City Works has published a couple of Mayhew’s own books, but even with writing she prefers a communal experience. She co-authored two books with Miller and co-edited a collection of fiction, poetry and essays on parenting with Alys Masek.

While Mayhew likes writing, she prefers the communal process of editing and actually putting other people’s books “out in the world.” She enjoys finding ISBNs, communicating with printing companies, and going over final drafts – the aspects of publishing that lie beyond the text itself. As Miller puts it, Kelly is really good at “running the nuts and bolts stuff that we need to do to actually have a press.”

Mayhew teaches English, humanities and gender studies at City College, and she is an activist in the progressive community in San Diego.

“I’m an English teacher; that’s mostly what I do,” she says. Mayhew dons a purple bandana and a matching purple shirt. The watch on her left wrist is equally colorful, and she smiles wide as she speaks. She holds two degrees in English and a doctorate in American Culture Studies, but rather than focus on herself, she deflects and focuses instead on City College as a crossroads of different ethnicities and students in challenging socioeconomic positions.

Honoring the local community of people who document their experiences and challenge the status quo is the driving force in Mayhew’s work with City Works Press. “I see books as part of a culture, not as things that stand outside of a culture,” she says. For Mayhew, everything is part of a community and nothing stands alone – including herself.

City Works held its 10th anniversary celebration on Oct. 16 at the packed Glashaus Gallery in Barrio Logan where they sold hundreds of copies of their newest release, “Sunshine/Noir II.” The whole point of the event was “not about Kelly or me but about the community surrounding the press,” Miller said, echoing Mayhew’s emphasis on community.

“City Works Press is a collective community-based effort representing the San Diego that doesn’t always get represented – the communities that City College represents. And Kelly is a remarkably smart, competent, and caring teacher and professional who really helps bring our effort together,” Miller said.