In Memoriam: Harlan Kessel

photo of Harlan Kessel
Kessel with books. Photo by Suzanne Wu, from "A Skeptic Among Scholars."

Longtime UC Press staff and foundation member Harlan Kessel passed away on August 27, 2010. Kessel joined the Press in 1963, and served as marketing director and paperback editor for 21 1/2 years. August Frugé, former director of UC Press, writes in his memoir that Kessel “had as large a share as anyone in the joint effort to transform the Press from what it was to what it has become.” At the time, writes Frugé, UC Press “had no integrated organization for planning publicity, exhibits, reviews, mail and space advertising, store selling, and all the rest of it. It was Harlan who put all this together, made it work, made it a central part of the publishing process.”

The Kessels and the Frugés became close friends over the years, and Harlan and his wife, Esther, were instrumental in establishing the August and Susan Frugé Endowment Fund in California Natural History.

“Harlan was a book man through and through,” says Sheila Levine, associate director and publisher of the Press’s books division. “His passion was contagious as was his enthusiasm for UC Press and our mission to publish excellent scholarship.”

According to the obituary Kessel prepared himself, he “[built] the Press to world-class prestige from annual sales of $700,000 to $7 million by 1985. He retired from the Press to devote more time to his elected office of Director, East Bay Regional Park District representing Oakland and Orinda for the most part. By this time he was a proactive environmentalist, having successfully opposed—in the 1960s—the Shepher Canyon Freeway and Tunnel which would have bifurcated the Montclair District in the Oakland hills. Upon his retirement from the Park District in 1992, Kessel continued his work on behalf of the environment and historic preservation.”

Read Harlan Kessel’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle.