James Houston biography

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James Houston
Photo © Jana Marcus

James Houston

James Houston Biography

James D. Houston is the author of eight novels, including Bird of Another Heaven and Snow Mountain Passage. His non-fiction works include Farewell to Manzanar, co-authored with his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston - a true account of her family's experience during and after the World War Two internment, it is in a 67th printing from Bantam Books and a standard work in schools and colleges across the country.

He was born in San Francisco, where his parents settled after migrating west from Texas during the Depression of the l930s. At San Jose State College he studied drama and met Jeanne, whose parents had reached California from the opposite direction, crossing the ocean from Japan. In his writings, as in his personal life, these histories have intermingled. From his coastal vantage point, he has been able to look both ways, eastward across the continent, and farther west, toward the shores and islands of the Asia/Pacific region.

Jim and Jeanne were married in Honolulu in 1957, and from there moved to England while he served for three years as Information Officer with a Tactical Fighter-Bomber Wing. In 1959 his first published story appeared in the London literary journal, Gemini. Another early effort won that year's U.S. Air Force Short Story Contest.

After traveling extensively in Europe - to Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Scotland, Scandinavia, and the Soviet Union - he returned home to pursue an M.A. in American Literature at Stanford. He studied with Wallace Stegner, critic Irving Howe, editor Malcolm Cowley, and the Irish short story master, Frank O'Connor. Four years later he returned to Stanford as a Stegner Writing Fellow. While there he sold his first novel and completed his second, Gig, which won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for Fiction.

Since 1962 he and Jeanne have lived in Santa Cruz, within view of Monterey Bay, where they raised their three children, Corinne, Joshua and Gabrielle. For several years he made his living as a musician, teaching classical and folk guitar, and playing acoustic bass in a piano bar and in a bluegrass band. In l969, after teaching for a year at Stanford, he began teaching writing part-time at the University of California's Santa Cruz campus, an arrangement that continued for over twenty years, interspersed with visits to such campuses as the University of Hawai'i, the University of Oregon, the University of Michigan, and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In spring 2006 he returned to his alma mater, now San Jose State University, to hold the prestigious Lurie Chair, as Distinguished Visiting Professor in Creative Writing.

A frequent visitor to Hawai'i, he has traveled widely in the Pacific Basin. In 1993 he was invited to Okinawa to lecture at the University of the Ryukyus. In 1998 he served as a Smithsonian Lecturer for the Cunard Lines' South Pacific Cruise to the Marquesas, Fakarava, Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. His often anthologized stories and essays have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, GQ and Ploughshares.

He died in April 2009 at his home in Santa Cruz, California. The cause was complications of lymphoma, said his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. He was 75.

Partial Bibliography

Novels

  • Between Battles (1968)
  • Gig (1969)
  • A Native Son of the Golden West (1971)
  • Gasoline (1980)
  • Love Life (1985)
  • Continental Drift (1996)
  • The Last Paradise (1998)
  • Snow Mountain Passage (2001)
  • Bird of Another Heaven (2007)

Nonfiction

  • Farewell to Manzanar, with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
  • The Literature of California
  • Surfing: A History of the Ancient Sport of Hawaii (1966)
  • Californians: Searching for the Golden State (1982)
  • The Men in My Life: and Other More or less True Recollections of Kinship (1987)
  • In the Ring of Fire: A Pacific Basin Journey (1997)
  • Hawaiian Son: The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae (2004)

James Houston's website

This bio was last updated on 04/20/2009. We try to keep BookBrowse's biographies both up to date and accurate, but with many thousands of lives to keep track of it's a tough task. So, please help us - if the information about this author is out of date or inaccurate, and you know of a more complete source, please let us know. Authors and publishers: If you wish to make changes to a bio, send the complete biography as you would like it displayed so that we can replace the old with the new.

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Interview

In two separate interviews James Houston discusses Snow Mountain Passage (2001), a story of tragedy, misfortune, survival and endurance; and Bird of Another Heaven (2007), set in both our time and the late nineteenth century in which a half Indian, half Hawaiian Californian woman became consort and confidante to the last king of Hawaii.

(below this interview is an earlier interview in which Houston discusses Snow Mountain Passage)

For the second time, you've written a novel that reaches in to the past . What relevance does historical fiction have for contemporary readers?

Reading historical fiction doesn't necessarily mean you have to leave the modern world. The story itself may be set a hundred or two hundred years ago, yet still have a contemporary resonance. I think it's a matter of perspective, the authorial perspective that is brought to the telling. In Bird of Another Heaven the narrator, Sheridan Brody, is a Bay Area talk show host and one-time student of anthropology. He is in his 30s before he discovers a previously unknown branch of his family tree, discovers an ethnic background his parents never talked about, discovers he's the great-grandson of a woman who was half California Indian and half Hawaiian. Seeking out the truth of her life puts Sheridan's own life to the test. At the same time this quest brings the late 19th century into the late 20th century.

It's another example of something I find in a lot of narratives, whether short or long: in order to get the story told, you have to tell two stories. The second ...

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Books by this Author

Books by James Houston at BookBrowse
Bird of Another Heaven jacket Snow Mountain Passage jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for James Houston but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • H.W. Brands

    H.W. Brands

    Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics.

    ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Bird of Another Heaven

    Try:
    The Age of Gold
    by H.W. Brands

  • Alan Brennert

    Alan Brennert

    Alan Brennert was born in Englewood, New Jersey, to Herbert E. Brennert, an aviation writer, and Almyra E. Brennert, an apartment rentals manager.  He grew up in Cliffside Park and Edgewater, New Jersey, always living... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Bird of Another Heaven

    Try:
    Moloka'i
    by Alan Brennert

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