The night marked the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's reading of the poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery--a legendary event in what subsequently became known as the San Francisco Renaissance
At last night's event, I shared the stage with writers Michael McClure, Armistead Maupin, Amy Tan and actor Peter Coyote for readings that focused on local writers. Naturally, I read an excerpt from one of Jack London's works. He not only lived in Oakland but ran for mayor twice.
In 1902, a 25-year-old Jack London went to England to investigate poverty in London's notorious East End. Clad in thrift store clothes (with a gold piece sewn into his jacket for emergency purposes), London roved the streets and took notes on what he saw.
After returning to Oakland, he finished "People of the Abyss," a moving work of social criticism that exposed the horrible poverty existing in the heart of the world's richest and most powerful empires. One hundred years later, despite wars, revolutions and endless good intentions, the gulf between rich and poor continues--in new places and in new forms but unabated.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has reminded us of the sharp contrast between the haves and have nots.
According to Jack London, the one beautiful sight in the East End was the sight of children playing. They were too young to realize the predicament of poverty, and it had not yet crushed their spirit.
"The children of the Ghetto possess all the qualities which make for noble manhood and womanhood; but the Ghetto itself, like an infuriated tigress turning on its young, turns upon and destroys all these qualities, blots out the light and laughter, and moulds those it does not kill into sodden and forlorn creatures, uncouth, degraded and wretched below the beasts of the field ... In such conditions, the outlook for children is hopeless. They die like flies and those that survive, survive because they possess excessive vitality and a capacity of adaptation to the degradation with which they are surrounded."