ALAMEDA -- Island author and poet laureate Mary Rudge and her new book, "Jack London's Neighborhood," were featured at a Nov. 19 event at the West End library.
The reading, book signing and discussion also included a video tour by Glenda Barberra of homes and neighborhoods in Alameda where literary greats such as London and William Saroyan lived or visited.
"I began writing at age 7 or so," Rudge said. "I wrote on all the walls and furniture with a white crayon. But eventually my parents discouraged me from choosing writing as a career path. They felt it wasn't practical. My parents lived through the Depression era, and this was how they viewed the world. The WPA under (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt had put artists and poets to work, but after that, there were few ads hiring us."
When asked what started her on her literary history of Alameda, she said: "I thought it would be wonderful to discover who the poets and writers were who lived on such a small Island. I thought everyone would know everyone else. I got a committee together, and we published an anthology of Alameda's first poets and artists. I then focused on authors such as Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson (whose wife's sister lived in Alameda) and William Saroyan, whose family members lived in Alameda, so he visited often. Isadora Duncan used to come to Alameda from Oakland as a child, selling her mother's handmade Irish lace, door to door. Phyllis Diller lived here, as did Jim Morrison and Robert Duncan."
Rudge decided to focus on London, Isadora Duncan, Saroyan and Robert Duncan because, as children, they came from homes where they had only one parent, step parents or were adopted.
"As a single parent myself, left to raise seven children alone, their lives gave me hope that children could succeed from poverty and broken homes and achieve greatness," Rudge said. "Both Jack London and Robert Duncan also lived with spirits in their homes as an accepted member of the family. Alameda and San Francisco were very active centers of spiritualism at the time, and people regularly held séances and talked to those who had passed on."
According to Rudge's research, Stevenson, Diller and Morrison all found creative outlets out of difficult situations. Morrison's father was the youngest admiral of a ship in the Navy fleet stationed in Alameda. He was an extreme disciplinarian, according to Rudge.
Diller longed to earn enough money to move her family out of the housing projects in Alameda into a home. Stevenson wanted to survive tuberculosis, which was quite prevalent at the time. All of them were successful through their writing. Isadora Duncan became world renowned in dance, creating what we now call modern dance.
"There is a painting of Isadora in my new book, showing 149 door keys pressed into the paint, signifying the number of doors she opened for women and artists. Also pictured in the book are historic buildings and scenes of Alameda lost in time, with a map to enable readers to walk to these sites where poets and writers lived or had some experience in Alameda," Rudge said.
Rudge is content to live in Alameda and praised life on the Island.
"Even though I've traveled to five continents, visited many exotic places as a poet and speaker for peace, I am always happy and excited to return to Alameda. I truly believe that all the creative energy of past artists, poets and writers are present today. Alameda attracts and encourages the creative spirit in everyone," she said.
"Jack London's Neighborhood," published by Ex Libra, is available on Amazon.com.