Sunday, January 15, 2017

RIP Kevin Starr

I just learned that Kevin Starr passed away. Hours ago, I was reading Jason Sexton's interview with him in the current issue of BOOM. I was reminded, once again, of Kevin's huge contribution to our understanding of California history and culture.

Kevin helped me early on, just as he helped so many others. At the time, I was trying to place a biography of Carey McWilliams, my first such book project, with a publishing house. I didn't know Kevin except by reputation, but I decided to send him the proposal blind. One day I returned to my office to hear his booming voice on my telephone messages. He said he loved the proposal and had forwarded it with his recommendation to Jim Clark, publisher at the University of California Press. Who does that?

After the book came out, I was invited to give the Bonnie Cashin Lecture at UCLA. I began by recounting an anxiety dream that I had while writing the book. I went to a USC professor's cocktail party dressed in basketball shorts, but as I walked across the living room and sat down, I realized I had somehow acquired slacks and a blazer. I drifted into the backyard, and I saw Kevin (in silhouette) addressing me from the roof of a Mission-style home on the other side of the fence.

Only when the lecture was published did I learn that Gary Strong, the UCLA librarian, had persuaded Kevin to write the foreword. In it, Kevin mentioned the dream several times, all in good humor.

I won't rehearse my other contacts with Kevin or the various ways he influenced me or my work. But I'm honored to be part of a team of scholars that will assess Kevin's achievement. That's no small task, and I'm sure I'm not the only member who wants to do it right.

RIP Kevin. I won't forget you, your work, or your generosity.