Saturday, October 22, 2011


It's been two and a half years since Jim Houston lost his battle with cancer, and Santa Cruz lost one of its most treasured icons (as well as one of its most beloved favorite sons). So it's quite an unexpected pleasure to hear that a new Houston book is coming out, complete with a star-studded launch party and reading this Sunday at Cabrillo College.

"A Queen's Journey" is the historical novel on the life of Hawa'ii's last sovereign queen, Lili'uokalani, that Jim was working on at the time of his death. The book is unfinished, but the 120 pages of solid storytelling left behind will see publication via Heyday Books, an independent publisher in Berkeley, as a gift to Houston fans everywhere.

Sunday's kickoff event begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Cabrillo College Music Recital Hall. Among Jim's friends and colleagues who will be reading from his work are Alan Cheuse, Maxine Hong Kingston, Al Young, Karen Joy Fowler, Wallace Baine, Geoffrey Dunn and Stephen Kessler. Jeannie Houston will also speak, and live Hawa'iian music will be provided by Braddah Timmy.

Admission is free, but advance tickets are required. Go here and print yours out right now. I'll see you there!

Speaking of lost literary lions, this month also marks the second anniversary of the passing of Morton Marcus. Although, in Mort's case, I'm sure he'd rather be remembered as a brown bear, his totem animal.

(Here he is, looking very debonair, on the road in France. The first time we went to France with Mort, his wife, Donna, and our pals Bruce and Marcia McDougal, Art Boy and I took the train to Switzerland for a couple of days and brought Mort back a Swiss chocolate bear from Bern, whose city mascot is the bear. The next time we went to France, we all went to Bern together, which became Mort's favorite medieval city—until he and Donna discovered Prague a couple of years later. That we never had a chance to all visit Prague together is one of the great regrets of my life.)

Anyway, it's ironic that we lost both Mort and Jim Houston in the same year, two very different men with different sensibilities, but longtime friends whose lives and careers were entwined for some 50 years. And as Jim has been memorialized by the annual James D. Houston Award established by Houston's family and Heyday Books, Mort is remembered in the annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading established in his honor by Poetry Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College, UCSC, and Ow Family Properties.

Last year's inaugural poetry event with Robert Hass at the Cabrillo Recital Hall was a sellout. This year's 2nd Annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading will spotlight Kay Ryan, Pulitzer Prize-winner and U.S. Poet Laureate, 2008-2010. Gary Young, Shirley Ancheta, and Jeff Tagami will also be on the program. But take note: this year the venue has changed to the UCSC campus, at the Music Recital Hall, 3 pm, Sunday, November 20. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so plan to get there early. As a special incentive, selected items from the new Morton Marcus Archive will be open for viewing at Special Collections in the newly refurbished McHenry Library from 1-3 p.m. on the day of the reading.

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