By Liz Wilson, staff writer
In the Merriell-Cazier library, students can find a wide array of books and study materials. One of the newest additions to the heart of campus learning is an exhibit based on the works of classic American author Jack London. The exhibit, which opens October 5, will take students back in time to learn more about the man who brought us classic pieces of literature such as “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild”. This exhibit however, won’t feature any stuffed wolves or hunks of gold. The beginning of October marks the start of a semester devoted to London’s work, which will also include a symposium themed around his life and an art exhibit in addition to the exhibit at the library.
The basement of the library, usually home to avid studiers, is now home to part of the exposition. Tucked in a corner near the special collections room is a case where early copies of London’s work are on display in addition to the main floor display.
Every item in this new exhibit was pulled from the Utah State University Archives. Though USU is not the Alma Mater of Jack London, the University has a surprisingly large number of Jack London memorabilia.
“The Merrill-Cazier Library holds the second largest collection of [London’s] original works and letters between he and his wife as well as others including publishers and friends,” said USU graduate instructor Kristin Ladd, a contributor to the London exhibit. “His original tramp diary and original copies of his published works can be found in the Special Collections and Archives division of the library. The library’s collection is second only to the Huntington in Santa Marino, California.”
Library manuscript curator Clint Pumphrey described what visitors can expect to find when they come to view this rare exhibit.
“Our intention with the exhibit is to highlight items from our holdings that are particularly unique and deal with themes in London’s life that will interest students, faculty, symposium attendees, and other visitors to the library,” said Pumphrey.
Some of the themes drawn from London’s life may surprise most people.
“Themes include Jack London’s socialist politics, his allegedly romantic relationship with collaborator Anna Strunsky, and a trip he took across the United States — with a stop in Utah along the way,” said Pumphrey. “My specific role was to select materials and write text for the … panels about Jack London’s socialist politics and his service as a war correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War.”
The life of Jack London encompassed everything from romance to political drama to social intrigue. As such a multifaceted person, a library exhibit could hardly teach visitors to USU all they could hope to know about the adventurer and writer Jack London.
“One of the gems of the collection are all of the London first edition books that all have an inscription to his second wife, Charmian, as well as a tipped in photograph of London,” associate library dean Brad Cole said. Digital copies of the photos can be viewed on the library’s website.
In conjunction with the exhibit, Utah State has been chosen to host the 11th Biennial Jack London Society Symposium, which will be co-sponsored by the USU Department of English and the USU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives Division. The symposium is open to all members of the public and ties in with some of the themes of the exhibit.
“Topics range from biography, historiography to literary analysis of London’s work. A lot of current work is geared toward looking at gender and ethnicity issues in his writing,” Cole said. “There will also be a showing of two films about London as well as a panel geared toward student scholars about new directions in London research.”
Students interested in London’s work may also be taking classes held this semester to overlap with the symposium. Professor Paul Crumbley is teaching two classes based on Jack London’s work.
Students may wonder why anyone would want to study Jack London. Kristin Ladd responded to that question by saying,“In particular, Jack London is useful in analyzing history, politics, natural resources, anthropology, and the social sciences due to the wide variety of content found in his works. Though he is known mainly for “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” or possibly “Sea Wolf”, London’s repertoire extends well beyond dog stories and the Yukon. He writes on everything from marriage to colonialism, socialism to self-reliance, cosmic forces to sustainability.”
Utah State is a fortunate university to be able to host such a prestigious event and to be able to show case it’s vast collection of London memorabilia.
“Anyone interested in American authors or the history of the American West would benefit from reading and learning about Jack London,” said Cole.
The exhibit is free to the public, faculty, staff and students. The symposium will be held Oct. 4-6.
A third and final tribute to Jack London will also be exhibited in the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. The Adventures in the West — Reflection’s of Jack London’s Worldexhibit will provide an alternate perspective of the display at the Merrill Cazier library by portraying a series of rugged landscapes that were so often described in Jack London’s writing. Students, faculty and staff can experience the history behind Jack London’s work through art, writing and an academic conference all from Utah State’s main campus.
Kristin Ladd encourages everyone to explore these unique exhibits. “Take the time to go to the Special Collections and Archives. His, the cowboy poetry, works of the beat poets, and original folklore work as well as much more is there. It’s easy to access, the staff is incredibly helpful, and original works are always much cooler than reproduced. It’s like a treasure hunt, and you get to discover so many new hidden parts of lives you thought you knew,” .
Students who are interested in Jack London but don’t have the patience for reading may check out one of the dozens of films based on the books of Jack London, some of which are available to check out for free at the Merrill-Cazier library course reserves.