Is the World Big Enough for Mary Duncan?
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MARY DUNCAN has nothing to declare.
That was the joke others told about the globe-trotting professor from San Diego State University who regularly bluffed her way through customs at Moscow's airport. Her suitcases were filled with books to stock her English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Company, in the Russian city.
But in a life that plays out on a stage stretching from La Jolla to Moscow, and centered on Paris, Duncan indeed has plenty to declare. Much of it is revealed in a juicy, 167-page autobiography, Henry Miller Is Under My Bed: People and Places on the Way to Paris (Starhaven Press, 2008).
It's a tale of pushing the boundaries, a remarkable adventure of a woman overcoming a difficult childhood in National City to become a respected university department chair whose specialty, recreation administration, took her on an unlikely course to becoming an expert on terrorism long before al Qaeda became widely known. For years, Duncan was the go-to resource for San Diego journalists working on stories about international terrorism and "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.
With San Diego as the formative base, she has pursued a personal journey to understand the world, a quest notable for its exploration of eroticism and feminism as well as its fascination with avant-garde writers including the late Henry Miller, whose expatriate life in Paris inspired Duncan. His long-suppressed novel Tropic of Cancer led to a 1964 Supreme Court decision finding the book, challenged under pornography statutes, to be a work of literature. Duncan owns an important collection of Miller memorabilia, including recordings of interviews with the author.
"She makes her dreams come true," says San Diego friend Jacque Lynn Foltyn. "Mary always finds a way to do what she wants."
Obstacles become challenges, including walking through a no man's land in divided Belfast.