Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Historic Tid

It's the birthday of the novelist Jack London, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1876). He is best known as the author of over fifty books, including The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906). His best known short story is "To Build a Fire."
London was mostly self-educated. He read Ouida's Signa in 1883, a book about a poor Italian child who eventually earns fame as an opera composer. London credited reading this book as the beginning of his literary aspirations.
After graduating from grammar school in 1889, London began working long hours at a cannery, sometimes up to eighteen hours a day. Desperate for a different life, he borrowed money from his foster mother and bought a sloop named Razzle-Dazzle from French Frank, an oyster pirate, and then Jack London became an oyster pirate himself. When his sloop became too damaged to sail, London became a member of the California Fish Patrol.
London worked on a sealing schooner off the coast of Japan in 1893, and when he returned to America there were no jobs and he became a vagrant. In his memoir The Road (1907), London wrote about those days, including the tricks he used to evade train crews when he stowed away, and how he convinced strangers to buy meals for him. He even spent thirty days in jail in Buffalo, New York, before returning to California. Then he met a librarian named Ina Coolbrith at the Oakland Public Library. London called her his "literary mother."
London graduated from high school in Oakland and then spent a year at the University of California before poverty forced him again to seek his living through adventure. He sailed to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush, and when this did not make him rich, London turned to writing and began seriously to seek publication for his stories.
He came close to abandoning a career in writing when The Overland Monthly was slow to pay for a story they had accepted. But he was saved, both "literally and literarily," when The Black Cat accepted his story "A Thousand Deaths" and paid him forty dollars to publish it. London's short story "An Odyssey of the North" appeared in the first issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
Around this time, London also became vocal as a socialist. In 1896, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a story about London, giving speeches on socialism in Oakland's City Hall Park. He was arrested for this practice in 1897. He ran for mayor of Oakland as a socialist in 1901 and 1905, and published several essays on socialism, including Revolution, and Other Essays (1910).

Jack London said, "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
=The Writer's Almanac

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