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Robert Duncan in San Francisco Paperback – January 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 92 pages
  • Publisher: Grey Fox Press; First Edition edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0912516135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0912516134
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,486,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a wonderfully revealing account of a series of life-changing collisions between a young writer (Rumaker), an older writer(Duncan), a still older mentor for both (Charles Olson), a city (San Francisco), and an important era in American literature (the 1950s), when it was being turned upside down by the individuals and their friends. It's also a tender and intelligent account of a young man's coming to grips with being gay in the midst of this upheaval. Much more than memir; it's history."—Russell Banks

"Robert Duncan in San Francisco offers a surprising portrait of a mentor in all his witty, wicked, luminous, and vulnerable complexity. Straddling the lines of memoir and cultural history, Michael Rumaker gives a rare and delightful view of Duncan at home in the gay community while also documenting the struggles of that community in 1950s America." —Lisa Jarnot, author of Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus

"In this fine memoir of his 16 months in San Francisco, Rumaker learns may lessons about being at home with who he is, in what he calls 'Robert's city.'"—Joanne Kyger

"[Robert Duncan in San Francisco] looks at the intriguing relationship between the famous, their fans and the soon-to-be famous."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A harrowing picture of what life was like for a homosexual man in San Francisco before the Castro became the Castro."—Truthout

"This expanded edition of a local classic is not only a portrait of the S.F. Renaissance poet, but also a glimpse of pre-Stonewall gay life in the late-1950s. Author Michael Rumaker knew Duncan, and he shares the good with the bad, set against legendary North Beach haunts."—SF Weekly

"Robert Duncan in San Francisco is a one-of-a-kind glimpse into Duncan's life, written by Michael Rumaker, one of the rare firsthand chroniclers of the pre-Stonewall era of gay culture."—Bookslut

"... an intriguing view of the city during the pre-Stonewall era. Of particular interest are previously unpublished letters between Rumaker and Duncan."—San Jose Mercury News

"[Robert] Duncan was ahead of his time and his frank homosexuality inspired [author Michael] Rumaker to embrace his own. Robert Duncan in San Francisco stands with books like Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man as important works on gay liberation."—KCET L.A. Letters

"... wonderful and exuberant yet Rumaker, outlining his friendship with Duncan and his associations with his crowd… reveals the dark side of San Francisco in the 1950s and 60s."—Beat Scene Magazine

"This is a book that we all should want to read to remind us of from where we came and realize that we would be nowhere if those who came before us did not speak up."—activist Amos Lassen
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Michael Rumaker is an American author (born March 5, 1932 in Philadelphia, PA), to Michael Joseph and Winifred Marvel Rumaker. He is a graduate of Black Mountain College (1955) and Columbia University (1970). Most of Rumaker's fiction concerns his life as a gay man. His first book, The Butterfly, is a fictionalized memoir of his brief affair with a young Yoko Ono, published before Ono became famous. His short stories, Gringos and Other Stories, appeared in 1967. A revised and expanded version appeared in 1991. He began to write directly about his life as a gay man in the volumes A Day and a Night at the Baths (1979) and MY FIRST SATYRNALIA (1981). The novel Pagan Days (1991) is told from the perspective of an eight-year old boy struggling to understand his gay self. Black Mountain Days, a memoir of his time at Black Mountain College, has a strong autobiographical element In addition, there are portraits of many students, faculty, and visitors (especially the poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson) during its last years, 1952-1956.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James A. Gardner on July 28, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding account both of Robert Duncan's role in the San Francisco "renaissance" of the 1950s, which intersects with (but is not limited to nor primarily of) the Beatnik movement in San Francisco and the rise of the gay subculture, and of Rumaker's personal odyssey as a gay man in a city still dominated by Irish cops and forces explicitly hostile to an implicit gay city.
One shakes with Rumaker's account of being accosted and arrested for walking down Polk Street, an incident which commonly results in publication of one's name in the newspaper and typical ouster from one's employ.
In a city transformed by art and gay rights since those times, it's invaluable to note and fix in one's mind the personal heroism that made San Francisco the most obvious of gay meccas.
Of course, those familiar with Robert Duncan also know that he is one of America's greatest poets and the author of the best gay love poem ever, "Passages 18: The Torso," among many other notable works.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on March 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
Michael Rumaker's book, "Robert Duncan in San Francisco," is an articulate and sensitive account of an era now gone, but one that left a foot pad for great things to follow. His personal relationship with a Columbus circle of friends and his willingness to share it with us is a treat few biographers manage. In addition, the significance of this gathering of artists and authors in San Francisco at that time cannot have been solely due to chance. They came there at least partially because they knew one another or had heard of the existence of the ideas engendered among their peers. As it turned out, it was, indeed a movement, and in a sense also the creation of a microcosmic gay community before there was such an entity.

The notion of same-sex and homosexual bonding was not so uncommon (cf. William Benemann's research and writings), but the lengths that San Francisco police and courts went to punish "offenders" needs to be told more often. The raids and arrests for no greater crime than congregating should be considered as a contradiction of the widely believed vision of San Francisco as a Sodom and Gomorrah Here author Rumaker reveals the facts of that other San Francisco. The experiences of this circle of extraordinarily talented artists also calls attention to injustice. The quality of Rumaker's prose while covering a great deal of material demonstrates the authors skill with the language.

"Robert Duncan in San Francisco" closes with personal correspondence and an interview with the author. There, too, are personal touches that make the book alive, not a dry historical account; a human touch one can imagine, a conversation among friends.

In all, Michael Rumaker's "Robert Duncan in San Francisco" is a welcome addition to the corpus of stories about the wonderful time that was an American spirit at mid-century and some of the enormously talented folks who made it so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael S. Stewart on October 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Upfront, I'm biased: I know many of the people involved in this book. But as a student and lover of post-war American poetry, I can't tell you how much genuine delight this book brought me; I wouldn't be taking the time to write this otherwise. The core essay is somewhat slight, being an essay rather than a full-length memoir, but it's supplemented by such great material - letters, and a terrific interview with Rumaker - that it's a book you can keep coming back to. Well worth the price.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on November 20, 2012
Michael Rumaker is one of the last Black Mountain students still alive and active with memories of the fabled alternative institution in which Anni Albers, Mary Callery, M.C. Richards, Ruth Asawa, Hilda Morley and Trude Guermonprez all taught. When the college collapsed, many of the students wound up in San Francisco, where a thriving art and poetry culture awaited them, in the wake of the Howl trial of 1957. Rumaker's memories center on Robert Duncan, the poet and artist who had served briefly at Black Mountain with his partner, the one-named painter "Jess," and befriended Rumaker there, and later in Philadelphia, where Rumaker hailed from. They were both young men; well, Duncan was in his mid-thirties and seemed endlessly professional and together to the foundering Rumaker.

Not only that, but Duncan was openly gay, while Rumaker, though highly sexed, found himself a prisoner of the "city of night" that was homosexual life for most men in the 1950s. It was a time of cruising, blind determination, and often terrible luck (Rumaker was "twice raped, once almost murdered" at Rittenhouse Square.) This covert sexuality was the product of a confused postwar nation which had caught a glimpse of homosexual activity from the Kinsey Report and now seemed determined to stamp it out altogether. Complicating relations between the older and younger man were several factors. Duncan painted one scenario in which he and Jess enacted the sort of domestic happiness and mutual love that was the mainstay of mass culture magazines of the period like Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal, but on the other hand flaunted traditional gay promiscuity much as had Baron Charlus before him.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wm C Wilber on May 9, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was pure verbal masturbation. I lived in S.F. at this time and am gay, but this book described a scene unlike the city I knew and loved.
Bil Wilber, Ben Lomond,CA
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