After leading the independent bookstore's nonprofit arm for five years, overseeing a speaker series that became known for hosting popular and renowned cultural figures, Jean Forstner will step down as executive director of Kepler's Literary Foundation.
Forstner is set to leave this month, though she couldn't speak on an exact exit date. In an interview, the executive director said she'll be taking a break after guiding the organization through a pandemic for the past two years.
"I have a great deal of pride in what we've done," Forstner said. "And at two years into the pandemic, and with hopefully things opening up in a different way, it's really time to hand it over to somebody else who wants to take it in the next phase."
Forstner spearheaded Kepler's Literary Foundation, or KLF, since its inception in 2017.
Under her leadership, the nonprofit hosted a highly popular speaker series on the Peninsula that would see a diverse lineup of guests, from Justice Sonia Sotomayor to youth author Rick Riordan, and over 100,000 attendees in the past five years. The events carried on during the pandemic online.
Before the founding of KLF, Forstner helped establish the Ravenswood Literacy Project, which donated about 5,000 books to over 15,000 students in the Ravenswood City School District. The project also brought popular youth authors to campus. Dan Gilbert, chair of the KLF Board, credited Forstner for leading the program.
"What really made the program unique is that we gave the schools 20, 30, 40 copies of a book so that it could really be dispersed among the schools," Forstner said.
Forstner joined Kepler's in 2007 as a community volunteer, developing programs that partnered with local libraries, schools and other nonprofits.
In 2012, as the director of community relations, Forstner was part of the team that helped map out Kepler's future as the bookstore faced another major existential threat when owner Clark Kepler announced his retirement.
Praveen Madan, who had just joined Kepler's as its "community engagement officer" and restructured operations, envisioned a hybrid business, part for-profit and part nonprofit.
Kepler's first established Peninsula Arts & Letters, which was fiscally sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, before KLF applied for its own nonprofit status.
Soon, Kepler's bookstore was set up as a social purpose corporation, while KLF would act as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm responsible for community programs and events, with Forstner as its executive director.
At the time, the nonprofit had an annual budget of about $500,000 and a staff of about five people, Forstner told this news organization in 2017.
KLF maintained its community programs during the pandemic, including its popular speaker series. Forstner said guiding the nonprofit through a pandemic was a challenge but found that some of the programs may have worked better online than in person, such as the literary seminar program led by Kimberly Ford. By hosting the sessions online, attendance has increased from around 25 to 30 people per session to around 100, she said.
Though she's stepping down from KLF, Forstner said she hopes to continue to be involved in community organizations. Climate is a topic at the top of her list.
"We really aim to sustain the momentum that Jean has built over the course of the past, let's call it 10 years or more, with Kepler's, and continue to produce terrific events for our customers in the community at large," Gilbert said.