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The Icons at Home Celebrating local lit legends James Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston in an excerpt Kick off the holiday season from ‘A Light in the Midst• of HorsDarkness’ d’oeurves


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Jim Houston, a protégé of Wallace Stegner, was a gentleman writer.



ZINNIA’S WELCOMES SANTA Sunday December 4, 11am -2pm

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t’s only a five-minute stroll thing made of cherrywood • Largest ornament collection and heart from one of Santa Cruz’s most withCounty a cupola on top, the in redwood Santa Cruz sun-bright, postcard-pretty ofsparkle! one of Jim’s most vivid •subject Tons of California beaches, but the den essays. He would go on to write in the home of James and Jeanne nine novels and about twice that Wakatsuki Houston is dark and many nonfiction works and win cool, even on the hottest days. The the American Book Award and the room is redolent of another time, Humanitas Prize, and he articulated crowded with antique furniture and as well as anyone the psychic and quiet in a way that I imagine homes historical dimensions of being a used to be before television and air Californian. Much, if not all of that conditioning. I’ve been a guest in writing took place in the attic office that den dozens of of his Santa Cruz times, on official house, including business and his luminous otherwise, and I novel Snow rank some of those Mountain Passage, moments among a heartbreaking the most sublime fictional take on of my years as a the famous Donner cultural journalist. Party tale. If a As the guy from house can serve as the local paper, a muse for a novel, I had license to then this is the one. invite myself over The Houstons and talk for an moved into the hour or two with house as little more the Houstons about than squatters. It books, the past, ideas and long dead was 1962 and the house had been heroes, all that stuff writers love empty for three years. The den’s to talk about. Tall, courtly, cowboy picture window was shattered and handsome, possessed of the kind whatever furniture left behind of deep oaken speaking voice you had been exposed to the elements would expect Uncle Sam to have, for nobody knew how long. The Jim Houston, a protégé of Wallace Houstons didn’t have much money, Stegner, was a gentleman writer, so the cheap rent appealed to them. a mischievous spirit in a brawny They didn’t figure to stay long, but frame who was always aflame they fell in love with the place and with the passions that drove him, bought the house. In a coincidence what you might call an emotional that no novelist could get away with, geography, in Jim’s case, California the Houstons later learned that and Hawaii and the unnamable the house had once belonged to the family of Patty Reed, the youngest essence that those two places share. survivor of the Donner Party, and Jeanne was (still is!) whip-smart and that some of the artifacts of the radiant, wielding an easy charisma Donner Party, including Patty’s doll, that could melt stone. had been stored in the very same The house is a story in its own attic where Jim wrote his books right, a mighty ramshackle of a



November 30-December 6, 2016

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