I was saddened but not surprised to see, in Michael Carey’s recent and otherwise entertaining and enlightening essay about Jack London’s time in the Klondike, a reference to San Francisco as London’s “hometown.”
Jack London was born in San Francisco, under fraught circumstances, but taken to Oakland as an infant, where he thrived. His schooling was all in Oakland, and he lived there for the vast majority of his 40 years (when he was not traveling). Even during his year as an undergraduate at Berkeley, which immediately preceded his 18 months in the Klondike, he did his school work at a saloon on Oakland’s bustling waterfront. The vast majority of his writing was done in Oakland, and his two children were born there. He ran for mayor of Oakland twice.
This is a sore point for Oaklanders (or, as we sometimes call ourselves, the Oaklandish). The city, which gave us not only London, of course, but such notables as Gertrude Stein, Robert McNamara, Earl Warren, Clint Eastwood, Bill Russell, Sly and the Family Stone, Tom Hanks, Rickey Henderson, Damian Lillard and the Black Panther Party, has often been overshadowed in the public imagination by its more glamorous neighbor to the west.
Most galling to Oaklanders has been the misinterpretation of Stein’s statement, “There is no there, there,” almost universally taken as a negative comment on our city. In reality, it was merely Stein’s lament upon discovering, many years after her rise to prominence, that her childhood home in Oakland had been demolished.
Mr. Carey will perhaps forgive this minor correction to his essay, especially in light of his own obvious fondness for the environs of his youth — a charming and even touching thread that has run through his many contributions to these pages over the years.
— Doug Miller
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