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Howard Karno | In Memoriam

Howard Karno was so many things to so many people:  Angelino, born and bred; a student and scholar of Latin America; an innovative and resourceful bookseller; and a husband, father and friend.  Howard was forever a boy trapped in a man’s body; he never lost the capacity for spontaneity and impish behavior.

He had many loves.  He loved the beautiful home that he and Beverly created in the hills of Southern California.  He loved good books, good conversation, good food, and good wine.  He loved people – all sorts of people in more countries than most of us will ever visit.  He remembered them; he kept up with them; he treasured them.  Most of all, of course, he loved Beverly and his family.  They were his greatest joy.

His involvement with Latin America began with graduate study at UCLA.  Howard had the good fortune of doing field work in Peru at a time when the country hosted a number of young researchers from the United States, including Tom Davies, Jesus Chavarría and Peter Klaren, who became life-long friends.  His work on Peruvian modernization resulted in a splendid dissertation but no job in the academy, which was a blessing in disguise.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Howard quickly found his footing in the book trade, establishing a business that combined his knowledge of bibliography with a garrulous personality and instinctive salesmanship.  Enter SALALM.

The marvelous interview that Howard gave to Mark Grover in 2006 offers an account of the ups and downs of his career and memories of working with many SALALM alums.  What he fails to mention is the important role that he and his family played in shaping our organization and building its community.  Howard’s mother, a great cook, even prepared and served a dinner for the UCLA SALALM, which jump-started the libreros’ reception.  Howard’s enormous presence in the Latin American book trade led to the compilation of bookseller information in the various editions of Directory of Vendors of Latin American Library Materials.  Howard never lost the curiosity of a scholar.  He read voraciously and broadly.  SALALM is fortunate that so many of its libreros are people who love books, read books, and learn from books.  Surely, none did so more than Howard.  He knew our libraries’ collections and our interests and many of our institutions’ treasures are a result of his knowledge and efforts.

His generosity was legendary.  He was generous with his time, ready to listen to all. He made each of us feel he truly cared about our lives.  When he saw or read a book that reminded him of someone, he would mail it along to share it.  He never visited a bookstore without buying something as a way to support them. Howard made a room brighter when he entered it and filled it with more laughter and engaging conversation.

Howard’s early Libros Latinos catalogs began with a lema: “As a former professor of Latin American history familiar with the bibliography and sources of out-of-print materials, I will give prompt attention to your requests.”  So he was, and so he did for four decades.

We miss you, Howard.

David Block (University of Texas at Austin) and Paula Covington (Vanderbilt University)

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