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A life devoted to Jack London

  • Author Jack London poses for a photo in 1916, shortly before his death at age 40. (Associated Press)

Almost two dozen books have been written about Jack London in the century since his death.

And yet, “No American writer has been subjected to more misleading commentaries,” according to Earle Labor, a professor emeritus at Centenary College in Shreveport, La.

The man regarded as the world's leading Jack London scholar attempts to set the record straight with an honest portrait of the real man behind the sensational persona in his new biography, “Jack London: An American Life” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

He made London the subject of his doctoral dissertation in 1961, back when the writer was dismissed by academics as “a popular hack.” He taught the first college course on London and collaborated with London's late grand-nephew Milo Shepard of Glen Ellen to publish “The Letters of Jack London” in 1988. Milo also donated memorabilia and archival material for The Jack London Museum and Research Center at Centenary.

What has fueled your pursuit of Jack London?

I can imagine few major writers who not only lived but also survived such an incredible number of dangerous escapades... London's life as well as his works represent exceptionally well the main currents of his time in America.

Beyond his spectacular adventures as a writer is his extraordinary talent — in fact, genius — something most of the literary critics ignored during his lifetime and for nearly a half-century after his death.

He was a professional craftsman of the highest order and a consummate literary artist.

Which work best exemplifies London's genius?

Although this may sound like a cliché, I must name “The Call of the Wild.” I think he wrote far better than he knew when he said, “I thought I was just writing a good story about a dog.”

Several full-length books have been published about this masterpiece... translated into nearly 100 different languages worldwide.

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