A workshop participant shows off her letterpress creation at Tuleburg Press in downtown Stockton. (Photos courtesy of Tuleburg Press)

Right People, Write Place

Publishing press preserves lost art form and promotes local writers

Back Web Only Apr 17, 2024 By Ben Sanchez

Beyond the double doors of Tuleburg Press is a gateway to the past: A row of vintage manual typewriters sit atop filing cabinets. Paula Sheil, founder of Tuleburg Press, moves from room to room pointing out each piece of equipment donated or acquired through grants over the years. “We had David Reina handcraft a (Hollander) beater for our paper making projects,” Sheil says. 

A Hollander beater is a machine dating back to the 17th century that produces pulp to create paper from fibrous materials. Through The Pieces to Peace: Veterans Writing Project, the nonprofit Tuleburg Press invites veterans to bring an article of clothing and place it in water through a beater to create pulp needed to create a paper journal. “The idea is to transform something traumatic into art using clothing and creating a journal,” Sheil says. 

Fresh prints

Tuleburg Press, founded in 2013, is a local nonprofit publishing company with a focus on developing creative literary community programs, showcasing local writers and building an appreciation of the book arts. Sheil is optimistic about the creative writing space in Stockton and her role as a founder of Tuleburg Press. 

Located on the first floor of the historic Cort Tower in downtown Stockton, the small independent publishing press is tucked away near the foyer of a 10-story building developed in 1915. The Write Place, a creative book and writing center, invites writers of all ages to explore the unique, vintage-inspired space filled with books and journals. Sheil considered the nonprofit a legacy project.

An accomplished writer with work published in The New York Times, Sheil wrote feature stories for The Stockton Record for 10 years before working as a full-time professor to teach English and poetry at San Joaquin Delta College. She has received accolades including Stockton’s Top Arts Recognition Award in 1997, a Distinguished Faculty Member designation at San Joaquin Delta College in 2013 and the San Joaquin County Commission on the Status of Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award in the Creative Arts in 2014.

Poet Joshua Gill-Sutton speaks at a September launch event for the Tuleburg Press poetry collection “Center of Attention.”

Current board member Alicia Arong says Sheil discovered a way to “fill gaps in the arts and culture life in Stockton” with Tuleburg Press and The Write Place. “She is a dynamic woman. She has the ability to take her vision to fruition,” Arong says. Prior to meeting Sheil, Arong had retired from her regional coordinator position at Macy’s West and found herself more active in the community with organizations in San Joaquin County. Arong met Sheil over 20 years ago and served with her on the Stockton Arts Commission. 

“She (Sheil) has been an educator for years working with youth. When she developed Tuleburg, she asked, ‘Would you like to be a board member?’ I said, ‘Of course!’” Arong says. Arong praised Sheil’s determination in developing Tuleburg Press, stating she is a “one woman show.” Sheil’s current venture developing programs for the organization lay the groundwork for The Write Place. If Tuleburg Press is the pillar of the organization, then The Write Place truly is the heart of each idea and program developed beyond those doors inside Cort Tower.

Write on 

The origin of Tuleburg Press started when a colleague at San Joaquin Delta College asked, “Can you help me find a way to publish a book?” Initially, Sheil had no background in printing or publishing books, with the exception of poetry journals she distributed at cafes. 

“When we started, I already published poetry journals years before — around 7,000 copies every quarter. I shipped them from Seattle to San Diego, all the cafes that had poetry venues and open mics,” Sheil says. At the time, Sheil was the chair of the Marian Jacobs Literary Forum in Stockton. “I said, why don’t we just start a publishing company,” Sheil says. She raised funding for the first book the press published, “Desperation Passes” by Phil Hutcheon, and asked the forum to match it to help with the launch. 

Sheil believed the foundation of Tuleburg Press could blossom into more than just a publishing company. With no background in operating a press, she traveled to the San Francisco Center for the Book to earn certificates in letterpress printing and book binding. Visiting studios and other printing establishments across California, she did research in order to build the framework of what Tuleburg Press would become today. 

As nonprofits continue to survive the challenges of the pandemic, Sheil applied for grants to maintain her organization and community workshops in Stockton. Tuleburg Press received funding from the California Arts Council for Youth Arts Action and the Stockton Arts Commission, among others. When she discovered certain grants covered rent and utilities, she applied for a grant in 2016 and her doors opened downtown in 2017. 

Tuleburg’s platen press, a Pearl model from the manufacturer Golding, was a donation from William Maxwell, who acquired it from late Stockton poet Marvin Malone’s estate sale. Marvin Malone was an editor and publisher of the literary journal “Wormwood,” which was founded in Connecticut and later moved to Stockton; it published famous names like e.e. cummings and Charles Bukowski. It seemed fitting for Sheil to use the press to publish future poets. 

Pieces to peace

In 2019, the California Arts Council funded the Pieces to Peace (P2P) project at Tuleburg Press. The project is inspired by the Peace Paper Project, which involved six local veterans creating a journal from a military towel. One of the participants, Vietnam veteran Joseph Maes, did not want to write in the journal because of the pain associated with his memories. After he shared his story with Sheil and University of the Pacific Professor Amy Smith, they encouraged him to publish his story as a book. 

Fully Booked, Tuleburg Press’ annual “celebration of literacy and book arts,” took place in September at the St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton.

“The story I wrote was originally for my kids. It was too personal, and I was hesitant to make it a book. Paula liked the story and guided me through the process,” Maes says. After convincing Maes that she could publish the book, he started preparing himself for speaking engagements at University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College.

He visited each college to share his experience about the book, “My Spiritual Walk as a Wolfhound: A Grunt in Vietnam,” in 2021. The pages describe a haunting tale of a young man at the age of 19 shipped off to Vietnam. This memoir of a youth details how unprepared he was for battle and the mental anguish his eyes suffered on his return home. “The book is emotional, but it is honest. People who read the book feel I am talking to them. This is my experience,” Maes says. Maes’ book is one of many available for purchase through Tuleburg Press that highlight local writers in San Joaquin County.

Center of attention

According to Sheil, book sales for her nonprofit will surprise people. “We sell about $10,000 worth of books each year. We have sold close to $70,000 since we started. For a small press, that is an incredible amount of money,” she says. 

The nonprofit recently published a collection of poetry from over 50 local poets titled, “Center of Attention: Poems on Stockton and San Joaquin.” Her vision to rally together a new group of writers, poets, and other seasoned writers took time to develop over the course of two years. She hopes people will experience a new generation of local writers. ”Writing can be an intimidating, solitary act. Writing in community is powerful and uplifting. … Collectively, we can create a stronger and more vibrant Stockton story,” she says.

With all of the pages falling into place, Tuleburg Press continues moving forward, assisting and connecting local writers and creatives in their unique space. “Stockton’s literacy rate will rise if we embrace the book and its parts. The means of creation will foster the act of writing,” Sheil says. “Books will never go out of style, and writing will always be an important skill.”

Stay up to date on business in the Capital Region: Subscribe to the Comstock’s newsletter today.

Recommended For You