Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Jack London Anniversary Is Approaching

Writer Jack London died on November 22, 1916--yes, it will be a hundred years ago--and already the tributes are appearing.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine from Jack LondonWorld posted a notice that a newspaper in Santa Rosa, Calif. (the Press Democrat), had published a special section devoted to London and to his presence in that region. London had bought and expanded a ranch near Glen Ellen (about 14 mi southeast of Santa Rosa) and had died there of kidney failure and related issues. (The suicide theory has been long debunked and discredited.) Anyway, here's a link to that newspaper section. Scroll down to the list of stories about London that appeared on May 27.

But online wasn't good enough for me! So I contacted the paper, and just the other day received a "hard" copy of the section (insofar as newsprint can be "hard"). Later today I'll try to find room in my Jack London file drawers to place this item. As many of you know, I do have a few (!!) London things in my collection.

But the newspaper supplement: Here's what's included in its sixteen pages ...
  • "The Storyteller Jack London" (a history of his career--some commentary about his legacy)
  • "London's Sonoma County" 
  • "Inspiration from the Valley" (how it propelled some of his works)
  • "Questions about Plants United London, Burbank" (London's association with the noted scientist form Santa Rosa)
  • "Engrossing Spirit of Adventure" (a survey of his travels and adventures)
  • "The Call of the Working Class" (London's interest in social issues and socialism--written by Susan Nuernberg, one of the current stellar London scholars)
  • "His Lens on the World" (London's own photographs of his wide travels)
  • "Follow Footsteps of Jack London" (sites to visit in the area)
  • "100 Years Later, Author's Still Wowing Fans" (his enduring fan base)
  • "Stories on the Silver Screen" (accounts of his tales that have appeared as movies)
  • "One Mountain, Many Dreams" (the story of his ranch--"Beauty Ranch," he called it)
  • "1400 Acres Ripe for Exploration" (what you can do/find on the ranch property--now Jack London State Historic Park)
  • Many photographs of London and his world
London was only forty when he died--and it is stunning (for me) to realize that Robert Frost was actually two years older than the author of The Call of the Wild. Both were born in the Bay Area, as well, and I like to imagine them running around together on the streets of San Francisco and/or Oakland ... though there's not the slightest bit of evidence that this ever happened. Still ... I remember Frost being alive--a major cultural presence--the poet who stumbled a bit during his part in the JFK Inauguration (January 20, 1961). I was a freshman at Hiram College when Frost died on January 29, 1963. Jack London had always seemed to me of an entirely different generation. But he wasn't.

As the Santa Rosa newspaper pieces so well explain, London certainly packed his forty years with accomplishment and adventure. He went on the Klondike Gold Rush; he wrote fifty books in fifteen years--nearly three a year (I would wager most people don't even read that many); he attempted a sail around the world in his own yacht; he bought and greatly improved a ranch; he wrote about boxer Jack Johnson, viewed (and wrote about) the ruins of San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake; covered wars as a journalist; lived undercover among the homeless of London and wrote a prescient book about it--The People of the Abyss; and on and on and on and on.

And in the fall of 1982--back teaching English at Harmon Middle School after a four-year hiatus--I discovered that the new literature anthologies for the 8th graders included The Call of the Wild. Which I'd never read. And for the next decade or so I went on a grand Jack London adventure that took me twice to the Yukon (once, in 1986, with my 14-year-old son), to his ranch (numerous times), to libraries and archives all over the place.  On July 18, 1990, I got to meet his daughter Becky (who died in 1992). About a year ago, I did a series of blog posts about that meeting--here's a link to the first of them. 

By the time my London-mania was over (though it's not completely gone, even now) I'd published two annotated editions of The Call of the Wild (Univ. of Okla. Pr., 1995, 1997), a YA bio of London (Scholastic Press, 1997), and a number of articles.

I still buy key works about London and his world, still read most of them, still do occasional presentations about him (as I did a couple of months ago at a middle school in Michigan). But as some of you know, in 1997 I fell under the considerable spell of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein--and then Poe--and then others. So it goes in my peripatetic intellectual life.

But those years with Jack London--those years I chased him here and there--were among the most exciting of my life. So it was great to get that newspaper the other day, great to read the articles, great to step back into that wondrous world, if only for a moment ...

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