Kevin Owen Starr
September 3, 1940
San Francisco, California, US
|Died||January 14, 2017 (aged 76)|
San Francisco, California, US
|Education||Univ. of San Francisco (B.A. 1962);|
Harvard (M.S. 1965; PhD 1969);
U.C. Berkeley (M.S. 1974)
|Occupation||Historian, author, professor, librarian|
|Known for||Writings on California history|
|Sheila Gordon (1963-his death)|
|Awards||California Hall of Fame;|
National Humanities Medal;
Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Kevin Owen Starr (September 3, 1940 - January 14, 2017) was an American historian and California's State Librarian, best known for his multi-volume series on the history of California, collectively called "Americans and the California Dream."
After an impoverished childhood, he received degrees from various universities where he studied history and literature. Beginning in 1973, Starr wrote nine books on the history of California during his career, along with being professor or visiting lecturer at numerous California universities. From 1989 until his death in 2017, he was a professor at the University of Southern California.
From 1994 to 2004 Starr was California's State Librarian. He continued writing California history throughout his career, receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, membership in the Society of American Historians, and the Gold Medal of the Commonwealth Club of California. In 2006 he was presented a National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush for his work as a scholar and historian, and in 2010 was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
Starr's parents divorced when he was a child. When he was six his mother had a nervous breakdown, after which Starr and his younger brother, James, were placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Ukiah. Five years later, he and his brother were reunited with their mother, where they lived in a public housing project in San Francisco, while they subsisted on welfare. He attended St. Boniface School in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
He later enrolled in the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1962. At the school, he was editor of The Foghorn, the school newspaper. After graduation he was commissioned as an Armor Officer in the United States Army. He served for two years as a lieutenant with the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, first as a Platoon Leader and then as the Assistant S-1. The 4/68 Armor Bn was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 8th Infantry Division and was located at Coleman Barracks near Mannheim in what was then West Germany. Upon release from the service, Starr entered Harvard University, earning an M.A. in English in 1965 and a Ph.D. in the discipline (specializing in American literature) in 1969. He subsequently launched his teaching career at Harvard as an assistant (and later associate) professor of English from 1969 to 1973 before returning to California.
In 1973, he became an aide and speechwriter to San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. He was also appointed city librarian, during which time he earned a master's degree in library science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974. He also did post-doctoral work at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Beginning in 1973, Starr wrote nine books on the history of California, six of which are part of his Americans and the California Dream series. It was at Harvard that he first became inspired to write about California's history, after browsing through their collection of books about California and the Pacific Coast. He explained the impact those books had on him:
All of a sudden I saw all these California books: diaries, memoirs, journals, histories, bibliographies. And a kind of enchantment overtook me, a kind of beguilement, a kind of reverie, definitely a physical reaction in the days that followed. As I look back on it psychologically, I see that I'd made an absolutely powerful connection between California and my interior landscape.
From 1974 to 1989 he was professor or visiting lecturer at numerous California universities, including UC Berkeley, University of Southern California,UC Davis, UC Riverside, Santa Clara University, the University of San Francisco, and Stanford University. He was also a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and served as the Vatican correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, covering the elections of Popes John Paul I and John Paul II in 1978.
In 1989 Starr became Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California, he then became Professor of History, and he was designated University Professor in 1998. Starr sometimes taught at the USC State Capital Center in Sacramento, California.
Starr was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to serve as California's State Librarian, a post he managed from 1994 to 2004, at which time Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger named him State Librarian Emeritus. Starr oversaw the allocation of $350 million in local library construction money after voters approved a statewide library borrowing measure in 2000. As a child, Starr had to read the newspaper to his visually impaired father, an experience which led him to create a statewide service that allowed visually impaired people to call a phone number to connect with someone who would read the news to them.
California State Librarian Greg Lucas calls Starr "truly, 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." Starr's library assistant, Mattie Taormina, notes that "Starr made you excited to be a Californian because you were going to create the future California."
Starr is the author of the ongoing multi-volume history of California collectively entitled "Americans and the California Dream". The first volume in the series, Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915 was published in 1973. His most recent volume, which covers the period from 1950 to 1963, entitled Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance won the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history.
In 2006, Starr was made a member of the College of Fellows of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California. In 2006 he was presented a National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush for his work as a scholar and historian. And in 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver inducted Starr into the California Hall of Fame.
Composer John Adams was inspired by the "Dream" series of books to write the piece City Noir in 2009. Starr received The Robert Kirsch Award by the Los Angeles Times as part of the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.