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Centenary professor pens definitive biography on Jack London

Kate Archer Kent

It’s been less than a month since a 500-page biography of the great American writer Jack London was published. But it’s gained traction in national literary circles. One reviewer called it the definitive biography of the larger-than-life writer. Whatever the take, “Jack London: An American Life” has been a long time coming for Earle Labor, professor emeritus of American Literature at Centenary College and director of its Jack London Research Center.

“I signed the contract for this book 22 years ago. It’s been worth the wait, I hope," Labor said, sitting in his Centenary office with a large framed portrait of London behind his desk.

Labor has published ten books and nearly 100 articles on Jack London. The tough part of this book, he said, was condensing it. Six editors later, he achieved the goal, and trimmed his biography to size.

“It was a major challenge to take a lot of that out. Some of it I did very reluctantly. But ultimately, I think the book works," Labor said.

Rain or shine, London forced himself to write at least 1,000 words a day. Labor said he limited himself to five hours of sleep a night. In his short 40-year lifespan, he wrote more than 50 books, including “The Call of the Wild.” It sold one million copies and catapulted London into the literary A-lister of his generation. Labor said biographers have preyed on his fame and concocted untruths about his personal life. He wants his biography to set the record straight.

“The biographers haven’t bothered to check out the facts because Jack himself has been such a popular figure, so marketable. Biographer after biographer has said, Well, I’m going to step in and make a fast buck off Jack London," Labor said.

At age 85, Labor favors London’s writing discipline. He has two book projects in the works and still writes every day for hours in his Shreveport study. He started teaching at Centenary in 1955, and still keeps an office there, with floor to ceiling bookshelves.