Santa Cruz novelist James D. Houston, 1933–2009
By Michael S. Gant
James D. Houston, a prominent Santa Cruz writer and teacher, passed away Thursday from cancer at the age of 75. A graduate of Lincoln High School and a student at San Jose State College, Houston spent most of his life in Santa Cruz in a house by the beach that was once home to Patty Reed, whose father, James Frazier Reed, helped organize the Donner Party. Houston often wrote about California history, and his novel Snow Mountain Passage retells the story of the Donner Party, with Patty Reed as the narrator.
In both his prose and his fiction, Houston explored the emotional fault lines of California and Hawaiian history and life. His books include Bird of Another Heaven, Gig, A Native Son of the Golden West, Continental Drift, The Last Paradise, Californians: Searching for the Golden State and Hawaiian Son: The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae.
With his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki, Houston wrote the seminal book about the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, Farewell to Manzanar.
Houston was also a skilled guitarist and a major force behind the Pacific Rim Film Festival. He contributed several articles and book excerpts to Metro.
Read more about James D. Houston from our archives
An interview with Houston:
An article about Bird of Another Heaven:
A review of his recent book of essays Where the Light Takes its Color From the Sea: A California Notebook
An interview with Houston about Hawaiian music:
James D. Houston on the importance of independent bookstores:
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