Wednesday, February 24, 2010

David James Duncan Part 1

David James Duncan father of three, fly fisher, novelist, essayist, speaker, activist, teacher, contemplative, and practitioner of what he calls “direct, small-scale compassion/activism,” was born in Portland, Oregon in 1952 and raised in a working-class east Portland neighborhood in a family in which three generations of ardent Seventh Day Adventists (on his mother's side) preceded him. He attended Adventists services and Sabbath School until age 15 when, finally deemed of age to choose, he bowed out having long before discovered there was more of wonder, grace and God Presence in the burble of a trout stream, a stand of Redwood, a leaping Chinook Salmon, or the wide open sky than in any pulpit or cathedral.

His father introduced him to fly fishing while he was still in elementary and over the years his love for it has deepened into a devotion so deep and a practice so devout it seems identical with religion. Later he would imbue his two novels, The River Why and Brothers K, with the images, metaphors and analogies drawn from fly fishing and intimate connection to waterways.

While in Junior High the loss of his brother (just 17) had a profound affect on Duncan, providing an early and sharp lesson in grief and loss. Awareness of this may have prompted his high school teacher to hand him Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and from that novel he learned the power of story to enlighten and transform, which sparked in him an undying love of the novel. Says Duncan: "This love had nothing to do with desire for fame, money, or even publication. I was simply smitten by the power of the novel to create an atmosphere in which a reader's inner wisdom would sometimes reveal itself, and I yearned to create such atmospheres on paper myself." (David James Duncan from "An Afterward, Twenty Years Later" p296-297)

For the duration of his high school career he read novels voraciously, "an older friend who went off to Stanford University. He started sending me reading lists and books, and my friendship and correspondence with this guy grew so much more interesting than anything in high school that I basically quit studying anything except great novels."(Smokebox Interview)

In the twelve years after graduating from Reynolds High School, he worked as "delivery driver, tenant farmer, factory grunt, lawn mower, Little League baseball umpire, janitor, tree planter, tree pruner, wilderness retreat caretaker, bartender, truck driver, toy-maker, warehouse manager, house painter"(297) and during those same years he also graduated from Portland State University, explored the paths of the inner or contemplative life, visiting Trappist and Buddhist monks, traveling to India, attempting vision quests, read avidly in the wisdom literature of many spiritual traditions, all the while continuing to read and write fiction.

In 1976 he abandoned a 200 page WIP to begin writing The River Why which he started submitting in1980 and which was rejected by over 20 major publishing houses over the next two years (including all the same ones that had rejected Norman Mcclean's A River Runs Through It several year's earlier) before it was picked up by Sierra Club Books in 1982.

Duncan continued to alternate between the Portland area and the Oregon coast for about a decade after the release of The River Why before moving with his wife sculptor/ceramic artist Adrian, and their two daughters, Celia and Ellie, to live on a trout stream at the headwaters of the Columbia/Snake river systems in Lolo, Montana

Duncan has been a sought after teacher and speaker for schools and events. He was the William Kittredge Visiting Writer at the University of Montana for the fall semester of 2002. He gave the Keynote speech for the Extinction Stops Here rally,September 19, 2006. In 2008 he spoke and read from The River Why at Hope College IDS Student/Faculty Retreat. And is scheduled to be Keynote speaker for the Cardinal Virtues Conference at Viterbo University WI, April 15, 2010.

Two of his most passionate concerns have been for the protection of Norman Maclean's river, the Big Blackfoot, in Montana from the river-killing leaching method of gold mining and pressing for removal of the four lower Snake dams which are driving NW Salmon to extinction. For the latter he has teamed up with American Rivers and will be speaking at their NW regional office’s 8th annual dinner and auction in Seattle on March 4 2010.

His essays and stories have appeared in Big Sky Journal, Gray's Sporting Journal, Harper's, Northern Lights, Outside, Orion, The Sun, Sierra, and a myriad of anthologies, forwards for other writers, and other publications.

Duncan told Smokehouse the interviewer in 2004 that he was working on several long fiction projects, a novella collection featuring female protagonists set in the West, a novel with working title Eastern/Western and a second novel, a comedy about reincarnation and human folly he used to call Nijinsky Hosts Saturday Night Live but has since relegated that title to a section of the whole now with working title:

The Reincarnatio

Non-Rhyming, Non-Catholic Western-American-Dialect

Montana-&-New York-Locale

Divine Comedy,

Version 2.

A Novel

[The above is the bio portion of the Author section of the Book Profile I'm creating for Book Drum. Tomorrow I'll post the list of works, awards, and misc.

I still haven't found an image of Duncan for which attribution and permissions are clear or any contact info for acquiring such permission so I've not yet been able to post a picture of Duncan on the Book Drum Profile. The image I posted above I deemed OK for posting on a personal non-commercial blog as I've seen it posted elsewhere by reputable websites sans attribution which leads me to believe it is an image released for such purposes as in a press kit or promotional package. If anyone seeing this has reason to object to my use of it here please advise me via email at joystory AT gmail]

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