Born in 1933 in Missouri to James and Mary Duggins, he led a life notable for extraordinary achievement and significance. Jim was a Navy journalist in the Korean War from 1951-1954, enlisting at age seventeen. Afterward, at age 22, he worked as a clerk in the prison population on Alcatraz Island, an account of which appears in his “The Rock and a Hard Place” in Love, Castro Street (Alyson Books, 2007).
He then attended college on the GI bill, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1960 from San Francisco State College, a master’s degree in speech science in 1964 from San Francisco State University and his doctorate in English education in 1970 from University of California at Berkeley.
He began his professional career in one of the most challenging areas of San Francisco, the Mission District, where he taught from 1962-1964, then at Laney College in Oakland from 1964-1969, followed by San Francisco State University from 1969-2002, from which he retired as a full professor.
A resident of San Francisco for 47 years, he was a member of the Gay & Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California, where he initiated the “Uncles” oral history project, vital oral histories of aging gay men of the Stonewall era conducted by him and others and now accessible through the Online Archives of California.
A former board member of Lambda Literary Foundation, he played a key role in the creation of one of its major programs, the annual Emerging Writers Retreat, and created and funded the James Duggins Mid-Career Novelist Award, one of the most prestigious prizes awarded annually in LGBT literature.
He was among the first to demand LGBT rights within the UC university system, a crusader for partnership benefits. His lifelong passions were community service, volunteerism and equal rights, and he supported organizations at the forefront of the struggle, in particular San Francisco’s Horizons Foundation and National Center for Lesbian Rights, as well as the Lambda Literary Foundation.
He volunteered at organizations especially in support of gay youth, including suicide prevention work. He was an active participant in Desert-Stonewall Democrats. A noted writer, his early work includes co-authorship of Hooked on Books (Berkley) and Teaching Reading for Human Values (Charles Merrill), as well as articles for The English Journal, The Journal of Reading and Wilson Library Journal.
He was a well-known author and critic of historical fiction, having studied the craft under James Michener. His well-received novels include “The Power;” “Slave Stealer;” “The Man Without a Conscience;” and “The Possession of Sarah Winchester” (Smoke Tree Press); and his reviews and ratings of historical fiction are pervasive on the internet. He was at work on a new novel, “It’s in the Cards,” which will be published posthumously.
A resident of California’s Coachella Valley since 2002, he was a member of National Teachers of English, International Reading Association, California Teachers of English, the California Reading Association, the original Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Authors Guild, as well as the Historical Fiction Novel Society.
He spent time in the home he built in Oaxaca, Mexico, a city where he became an active part of a project to provide books to underserved youth. He was a major collector of Mexican art, from which he made donations to museums in the United States and Mexico including the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Dr. Duggins is predeceased by his parents and two sisters, and beloved former partners John Smiddy and Rex Spinney; and he is mourned by former partner Jonathan Greene of La Quinta and a multitude of friends in California and Oaxaca.
Donations in the name of James Duggins may be made to Lambdaliterary.org.
~ Obit courtesy of Katherine V. Forrest