Article: The First and Last Lives of Jack London

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:43 pm on Thursday, April 25, 2019

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For the fabulous new magazine The Journal of Alta California, I wrote about the mysterious fire that took down Jack London’s mansion in California wine country. Here’s an excerpt of the article:

In 1898, Jack London was trapped in an Alaskan cabin while, outside, winter froze everything to icy stillness. “Nothing stirred,” he wrote later. “The Yukon slept under a coat of ice three feet thick.” London, then 22, had come to Alaska to make his fortune in the gold rush, but all he’d found was a small amount of dust worth $4.50. A diet of bacon, beans, and bread had given him scurvy. His gums bled, his joints ached, and his teeth were loose. London decided that, if he lived, he would no longer try to rise above poverty through physical labor. Instead, he would become a writer. So he carved into the cabin wall the words “Jack London Miner Author Jan 27, 1898.”

In the 1960s, that bit of graffiti helped verify the cabin, and it was divided in two. Half of the cabin remains in the Klondike, and the rest was moved to Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront, where London grew up. The day I visited the Oakland cabin, the farmers market was going on, and smoke from cooking sausages wafted through the air. The cabin stands in the center of the square, surrounded by palm trees. Drought-resistant grasses cover the living roof like fur—something London, a pioneer in sustainable agriculture, might have appreciated.

Read The First and Last Lives of Jack London.

I’ll also be speaking about Jack London on May 19th in Book Passage in Corte Madera with Jack London scholar Iris Jamahl. I hope you can come!

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