‘Committed and earnest’: University Press Books founder William McClung dies at 81

university press books
Nicola McClung/Courtesy
William McClung facilitated literary discussions and other events at University Press Books, which he founded in 1974.

William McClung, founder of University Press Books, the Musical Offering Cafe and various other organizations, died July 27 at age 81.

McClung loved his businesses more than anything, especially University Press Books, according to his wife Karen McClung. In addition to the Musical Offering Cafe and the bookstore, which he founded in 1974, McClung worked as an editor and editorial director for University of California Press, or UC Press, and helped found the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, which advocates for nature preservation.

“His main love was for his businesses, especially the bookstore,” Karen McClung said. “Everything he did was related to his work and to literary arts.”

In addition to selling books, University Press Books served as the meeting place for many book groups and author appearances, according to frequent customer and book group member Ken Knabb. He added that these events took place in a cozy space in the back of the bookstore around what McClung called “the great table.”

Knabb said McClung was always enthusiastically part of book groups and other events that would happen in the bookstore. McClung empathized with everyone’s opinion, Knabb added.

“Our discussions sometimes got heated, but I never heard him say a mean thing,” Knabb said.

McClung also enjoyed reading out loud with others while having some nice wine, according to Knabb.

Knabb said he thought all the events held in University Press Books had an immeasurable impact on the community. He added that while no singular event seemed particularly important, when these community events happen continuously for decades, they have a “huge impact.”

“That was one of the reasons he worked so hard to preserve the store,” Karen McClung said. “The camaraderie of just being with people and having literary discussions, that’s what he loved to do.”

While also working at UC Press, McClung managed several big projects, including the Mark Twain Papers and the Plan of St. Gall, according to a memoriam by the UC Press blog.

After he retired from UC Press, McClung focused on other work, according to Karen McClung. After his house burned down in the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Hills firestorm, McClung served on the Berkeley Fire Commission and started the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, she said.

One of the projects he was proud to support was Cafe Ohlone, which was housed in the back garden of the bookstore, Karen McClung said. He also loved nature, especially native grasses and butterflies, and worked hard to preserve it.

Karen McClung added that McClung walked around the Berkeley Hills just to see how the native grasses were doing or to clear the dry brush away. She said McClung never did anything without a purpose and was “committed and earnest” in everything he did.

“He was very open and eclectic,” Knabb said. “A really kind, great guy. He will definitely be missed.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.