Kevin Starr, California’s Biographer

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

I blush at the undue praise in the inscription Kevin Starr wrote in my copy of his book, Coast of Dreams, California on the Edge 1990-2003. He inscribed the book to “an important interpreter of the complexities of the California experience.” Historian and former state librarian Kevin Starr was the great interpreter of California’s experience and indeed the state’s true biographer. As usual, Professor Starr was being overgenerous in his note to me.

I last talked to Starr a month ago prior to a Schwarzenegger Institute event in which Starr was to say a few words. I praised his first book in his California Dream series, Americans and the California Dream 1850-1915, and he told me Coast of Dreams was his favorite in the series. I questioned why his history of California skipped the 1960s and 1970s. Starr answered he had trouble getting a fix on the events of that era.

Mostly we talked about his newest book, Continental Ambitions, Roman Catholics in North America: the Colonial Experience.  As happened whenever we spoke, I learned something.

Starr, who was a professor at the University of Southern California, passed away this weekend. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times is here.

Current State Librarian, Greg Lucas, offered the following statement after learning of Starr’s passing:

“Dr. Kevin Starr was one-of-a-kind. No other historian has been able to capture California’s exceptionalism, its vitality and its promise in such detail and yet invest it with the immediacy and excitement of a page-turner novel. Truly, one-of-a-kind.

“His love for California and his breadth of knowledge about the Golden State’s magic and unique diversity was obvious not just in his speeches and lectures as a professor but also in casual conversation.

“Dr. Starr led the State Library for a decade, under three governors, and was a champion for increased investment in not just preserving and protecting California’s rich heritage but in sharing it with all the people of California.”

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