Retired SF literary figure hits the streets

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Bronson, a New York Times bestselling author of fiction and narrative nonfiction, credits Junker with helping launch his career.

“In the early 90s, it was already well recognized among my writer wanna-be friends that Howard Junker didn’t mince words, that he had real taste, and strong opinions, and he didn’t give false praise,” Bronson said. “When Howard called me to accept my story _ it was maybe my third or fourth submission to him over two years _ that moment was a huge emotional release that brought me to tears. I count it as my biggest turning point in becoming a writer.”

Sherman Alexie laughs when asked if it was true that Junker discovered him, noting that he was published in some 12 magazines his freshman year of college. He concedes, however, that “ZYZZYVA” was the first big-name journal _ and it was a thrill to see his 12-page poem, “The Native American Broadcasting System” in print.

“He was an intense editor, but for me the big thing all along, no matter how big the career got, he had no problem rejecting inferior work of mine,” Alexie said by phone from Seattle.

Too young to join the fabled Beat writers who made City Lights Books a cultural landmark, and too old to be a hippie, Junker wrote a piece for Esquire in 1965, “Resume of the Young Man as a Non-Generation,” lamenting that his contemporaries were the in-betweens.

“He’s a genuine San Francisco character; I mean just look at him,” said Brooks Roddan, Junker’s longtime friend who often accompanies him on his literary loitering, and publisher of “An Old Junker” at his small non-profit, IFSF publishing.

“Traditional publishing methods are up for grabs; there are no templates anymore,” Roddan said. “So many writers and artists are reticent about promoting their own work, or too proud. But he loves doing it.”

Junker typically reads pieces that reflect off the landmarks where he sets up shop for 15 or 20 minutes.

At the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio, he reads from his scathing fictional letter to President Barack Obama.

“Dear Mr. President: We regret to inform you that your older daughter has been killed in action, defending the dusty city of K — which few fellow Americans can locate on the map,” it goes. “We hope that this war, which we elected you to withdraw from, is ended before your younger daughter is deployed.”

While much of the book is snarky and snide, plenty is fun and adoring _ and his love of San Francisco profound.

A poem entitled “Curtains” talks about those he has lost to cancer and AIDS, and the inevitable conclusion to his own story.

“I don’t know exactly how this script plays out, but I have an idea,” he writes. “There will be some twists, some messy business, then the curtain falls.”

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