The Spirit of This Era

Alta publisher Will Hearst reflects on his goal to have the magazine evoke a sense of place and discovery—today and decades from now. 

alta's editor and publisher will hearst
Alta’s editor and publisher Will Hearst

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

—Raymond Chandler, in “Red Wind”

Chandler’s words will strike the modern reader’s ear with the sound of a bygone era. But what I like about the author of The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye is that within a phrase or two, you know you are in good hands, and in Los Angeles. Continuously in print for the past 60 years, Chandler evokes the mood of his era and creates a sense of place—which modern residents may find familiar.

Alta strives for the same sensation. We’d be pleased to discover and promote writing, images, and ideas that will endure and, 60 years from now, evoke the spirit of this era.

Helping to keep works by writers like Chandler available are, of course, local booksellers. I hope you’ll join Alta in celebrating Independent Bookstore Day on April 27 by visiting your neighborhood shop. Alta is honored to partner with Book Soup and Vroman’s Bookstore in Los Angeles and Books Inc. and Book Passage in the Bay Area, where we sponsor author readings, panels, and other events. These wonderful institutions serve as literary light posts, guiding us to great reading experiences. They are where we rely on handwritten “staff pick” index cards affixed to shelves and the advice of impassioned salespeople.

In a kindred spirit, we’ve upgraded the Reviews section to draw more attention to arts and cultural events in California and the West. This means we’ll cover literature, film, restaurants, architecture, art, music, cool tools, and other acts of originality. And we’ll include three Recommendations with each review.

For example, accompanying our write-up of the Charles White retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a recommendation of Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite at the Skirball Cultural Center. And alongside our book review of Christian Kiefer’s Phantoms, we nod to three war novels of California and the West.

There’s more. This issue introduces Alta Picks, a new column in which our editors suggest exciting places to experience arts and culture. In its debut, we recommend Literary Hub, a website for literary culture; Broken Harts, a podcast about a horrific tragedy; and Desert Oracle, a quarterly journal about the beauty and mystery of the Mojave.

So that’s the challenge we embrace. To publish great writing and powerful imagery. And to help our readers discover new trails, knowing they will follow their own paths to discover the West.

Will Hearst is the editor and publisher of Alta Journal, which he founded in 2017.
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