In 1899, Jack London's publisher asked him for some biographical information that they could use for promotional purposes. In response, London wrote a letter. The letter appears in our McDougall-Littell anthology; I did a brief search of the internet and could not find the letter there.
The students and I read the letter aloud; it's pretty short and very conversational. London describes himself as "self educated" and he briefly outlines his life as one of adventure (working on boats as a fisherman and sailor, for example) and reading, always reading.
I love to read this piece with students, because it is blatantly obvious that London had no support for his writing...but he did it ANYWAY. He faced many obstacles to success, taught himself, and learned from his mistakes. It's a pretty interesting reading to do with kids for whom so much is facilitated, nurtured and encouraged, but would also prove a worthwhile selection for kids who struggle, too.
After the reading, we have a brief discussion of London's path to success.
I ask the students questions like, "Could you do this?" "How did London's time period influence his choices and his circumstances?" "What personality traits did London have?"
This letter really humanizes London for the students. Pulling him out from behind the typewriter helps him to be a "person," not just a famous writer.
At this point in their lives, the students have made lots of timelines. This assignment requires them to use two different sources and synthesize information about London's life and works. Since London barely lived into his forties, the students have to put a lot of information into a compressed area.
I do not give them a particular format for their timelines, nor do I provide them with a certain number of events. I think it is more important that they think about the events as they write them and begin to have an understanding of the coincidence of his adventures and his writings.
We will build on this activity for the culminating activity of the unit, the Body Biography.