Colorful, charismatic, creative and long-time literati leader – in many ways the modern ‘Sylvia Beach’ of today’s City of Light.
That’s Mary Duncan – author, publisher, book-club organizer and incurable round-the-world traveler – whom I had the pleasure of meeting this month during a recent three-hour rendezvous at Café Panis opposite Notre Dame cathedral.
Participants at this autumn’s special Paris Writing Retreat will have the pleasure of meeting this lovely lady in person in one of the city’s most well-known cafes once associated with the 1920s ‘Lost Generation’ of writers including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Mary, a vivacious San Diego native with a lifelong sense of independence, for whom Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex,’ is a life-guiding book, has led such an exciting and checkered international lifestyle, it’s simply impossible to write about all her adventures in this short introductory article.
As a teaser to the exciting meeting ahead for participants, Mary, who has spent many years in Paris, not only launched the highly-respected ‘Paris Writers Group’ but also her own publishing company with such books as ‘Sade’s Publisher,’ about Jean-Jacques Pauvert who released the complete works of the Marquis de Sade; ‘Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light’ by David Burke (pictured below with Mary), which explores the pathways of Paris frequented by the world’s most notable writers; and ‘Erotic Art of the Masters: The 18th Century’ by Bradley Smith.
Mary has also written her own captivating memoir, teasingly entitled, ‘Henry Miller Is Under My Bed,’ with another book soon to be released on the literary history of Rue de la Bûcherie along the banks of the River Seine.
In addition, Mary was a close friend of the legendary George Whitman, founder of famous bohemian Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, then she opened a similar bookstore in the very heart of Moscow, a project she described as “a true labor of love.”
And that’s not to mention Mary’s frequent sojourns at the Playboy Mansion near Beverley Hills with Hugh Hefner (pictured below with Mary), Max Lerner and a host of other visitors including actors Tony Curtis, Jack Nicholson, James Caan, and Warren Beatty; intriguing tales involving the FBI and the CIA; as well as marrying her Russian husband in the dead of night in a wedding chapel in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Such daring exploits are not surprising considering Mary has courted adventure, action, diversity and controversy throughout her entire life including experiencing - and writing about - some of the world’s most dangerous hot-spots, such as Belfast during the worst of ‘The Troubles’ where she won the trust of leading members of the Irish Republican Army; Tehran where she was trapped during the revolution that forced the ruling Shah into exile; and Managua in the midst of a conflict in Nicaragua between left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front and right-wing Contras.
A former professor at San Diego State University, Mary owns an archive of original materials on Henry Miller, author of ‘Tropic of Cancer,’ and is on the Advisory Board of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. She was an early patron of the Shakespeare and Company Literary Festival.