Born in Oakland, California, Robert Duncan was adopted after his mother died in childbirth and given the name Robert Edward Symmes, but Duncan took his biological father's surname in 1941. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley from 1936-1938, spent some time in New York, and then returned to San Francisco, where he became a key figure in what came to be known as the "San Francisco Renaissance" and where he resided for the rest of his life. A conscientious objector during World War II, he studied at Berkeley again at the end of the 1940s, during which time he made early and courageous statements on behalf of gay rights. He was an active voice again in the antiwar movement of the 1960s, and for some years he declined to publish his poems, opting instead to circulate copies to a few friends. The painter Jess Collins (1923-2004) was his companion from 1951 until the end of his life. People interested in his work should seek out some of the beautiful holograph editions of his poems.
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