Leslie David Gottesman
May 30, 1945 – October 21, 2019
Leslie David Gottesman died peacefully on October 21, 2019 in San Francisco, after a long illness.
Les is survived by his wife Megan Lehmer, and sons—from a previous marriage—Jesse Shane Gottesman and Sasha Trane Gottesman. Les also left four grandchildren, Alis Lane Gardner, Hayley Rain Gottesman, Abigail May Small, and Clifford Jamieson Small, as well as his sister Ellen Teicher, niece Hannah Teicher and nephew Noah Teicher.
Born to George and Fanny Gottesman in May of 1945, Les grew up in Portland, Oregon where he attended Grant High School before heading east to study at Columbia University, where he received a BA and MA in literature. He later received an Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco, and an MFA from California College of the Arts.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, Les was a pivotal figure in the Columbia literary scene, where he was mentored by poet Kenneth Koch. As a startlingly fresh poet himself, and as editor of Columbia Review, Les worked with many of the prominent Beat and New York School writers of his time: Allen Ginsberg, Ann Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Diane di Prima, and many others. At the Columbia Review Les supported the developing voices of young writers, including David Shapiro, David Lehman, Mitch Sisskind, and Paul Auster, and he co-edited with Alan Senauke and Hilton Obenzinger A Cinch: Amazing Works from the Columbia Review, published by Columbia University Press in 1969.
Moving to San Francisco in the early 70s, Les worked with FITS Printing and joined the faculty of Golden Gate University, where he taught English and Critical Thinking for 28 years. During his years at Golden Gate, he ultimately served as Director of General Education and as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Les traveled extensively, not only throughout Europe and Africa, but in southeast Asia, where he brought clothing and medical supplies to orphanages in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).
Dating back to his participation and arrest during the 1968 occupation of Columbia University, Les dedicated his life to fighting for human rights –opposing racism and colonialism. He worked with Prairie Fire Organizing committee and contributed to their journal, Breakthrough. As part of the solidarity movement with Eritrea, Les traveled to Eritrea several times, teaching at Asmara University and helping the newly independent country start a newspaper. His work on the literacy project, carried out during Eritrea's war of independence is documented in his book To Fight and Learn which provides remarkable testimony of Eritrea's teenaged fighter-teachers who spent years behind enemy lines teaching villagers and nomads to read and write.
Working with the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC), Les exposed police violence and organized several Rock Against Racism concerts, featuring headliners like the Dead Kennedys and MDC. He wrote for Maximum Rock N Roll, building significant ties with the progressive rock and punk scenes. Les played a leading role when JBAKC confronted the KKK, Aryan Nations, and Nazi Skinheads.
After retirement from Golden Gate Les renewed his career as poet and editor. He founded Omerta Publications <http://lesgottesman.com/
>, which has published 45 chapbooks by 23 writers and poets, including: Bill Berkson, Donna de la Perrière, Diane di Prima, Herbert Gold, Jack Hirschman, Joanne Kyger, Genny Lim, David Meltzer, Julie Rogers, Ellen Teicher, Laurance Wieder, Bill Zavatsky.
A celebration of Les's life will be held at the SF Women's Building on January 25, 2020 from 2 to 5pm. Many of the poets and musicians Les supported will gather at Bird & Beckett Bookstore in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, February 2. Tax-exempt donations in memory of Les can be made to Bird & Beckett's Cultural Legacy Project <https://birdbeckett.com/join/the-cultural-legacy-project/
>—a 501(c)3 corporation—at 653 Chenery St. San Francisco, CA 94131.