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42 years young, a family-owned publishing company looks forward to the next chapter

Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 4:46 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When you page through a book about Hawaii or the Hawaiian culture, chances are it was published by Bess Press.

The family-owned company has been at it for four decades.

“We start with the printed word. We start with the visualization, the ideas, the concepts, the heart that’s in a story,” co-founder Buddy Bess said.

He and his wife, Ann Rayson, launched their publishing company on the heels of Hawaii’s 1978 Constitutional Convention that mandated Hawaiian history be taught in the school system. But there were no books, so they bought the rights to a work called “Hawaii: Our Island State”

“We hired somebody at UH to update it. We printed it and miraculously it sold and made money in the first print run,” Bess said.

Fast forward to today. Bess Press has printed more than 500 book titles from classroom materials to children’s books to popular island favorites like Peppo’s “Pidgin to Da Max.”

“Pidgin to the Da Max” is probably the most popular. Everyone knows about it. It’s still fun. It’s a classic title,” Rayson said.

This month, the Oahu publisher will release a Hawaiian language version of one of its best-known works “The History of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” and plans are to translate a number of other textbooks into Hawaiian.

“It’s our state language, along with English, so it’s important that we treat it that way,” Rayson said.

The company will also release books in some Micronesian languages.

“Being able to amplify local voices and local stories really is at the heart of what we do and it’s how we fit into that publishing industry globally and nationally,” said director of publishing David DeLuca.

Bess Press marks 42 years as a book and trade publisher this month. It has grown to five publishing divisions, including online education, and it has a retail store in Kaimuki.

“We’ve enjoyed the ride that we’ve had with the writers, the illustrators, the photographers, the cartographers, the translators,” Bess said.

For a business that publishes other people’s words, Bess Press has its own fascinating story that’s fit to print.

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