Born in March of 1874 to a family of writers (Frost’s father was an editor and journalist), many people are familiar with Robert Frost and his poetry. Deemed as one of history’s best American poets, Frost was able to carve out beautiful monologues and incite curiosity in the minds of those that consistently ponder the human existence. But Frost’s works are not just for those in the midst of an existential crisis — his use of language and the subtle humor throughout his prose, coupled with inspiration from the New England region, makes Frost the perfect author to read with a warm blanket and burning fireplace. Even if it rarely does snow in San Francisco.
John Griffith Chaney, more commonly known as Jack London, was born at the end of the 19th century. Influenced by the recent history of the gold rush throughout California, London published works such as The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both of which are still discussed in elementary schools around the country. London was far more than an author, however. He was also a social activist, and he used his skill with the written word to produce books — The War of the Classes and The Iron Heel — that promoted the rights of workers. Despite his bouts with scurvy and alcoholism, London went on to compose and release over 20 novels over the course of his 40-year lifespan.
Growing up in the Beat Generation, Ferlinghetti is synonymous with San Francisco. Influenced by World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and subsequently spent some time in Paris. In the 1950s, Ferlinghetti and his family came back to San Francisco and have been here ever since. As a poet, Ferlinghetti founded City Lights, a bookstore located in North Beach that centers on the arts and politics and features authors from around the world. Ferlinghetti does have some notoriety associated with his name as well as the store, but that holds a definite draw for many as City Lights is a highly popular bookstore. In the 1950s, Ferlinghetti was arrested for selling Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl and Other Poems, due to the obscene nature of the poem. This trial, that was deemed as socially important by Judge Clayton Horn, actually was made into a film, starring James Franco.
Diane di Prima
Although she was born in Brooklyn, New York in the mid-1930s, di Prima entered early adulthood and decided to permanently reside in California. She is primarily associated with her political stances, in particular her views on the sexuality of women. An incredibly liberal spirit, di Prima grew up during with the Beats and the hippies, with her most famous piece being the 1978 Loba. After publishing over 40 books, she was named Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2009. This socially aware poet is so influential that San Franciscans are petitioning to have a street named after her.
There must be something with the Beat Generation and fantastic writing because novelist and poet Jack Kerouac never shied away from writing about bold subjects, including his experimentations with Buddhism and attempts to attain enlightenment. For years, Kerouac was never given the recognition he deserved — that is until his tales (some factual) of drug use, sexual escapades, and musical encounters were documented in his On The Road. While Kerouac is not from San Francisco, he did spend plenty of time in North Beach while writing his most famous aforementioned work — so much so that San Francisco even has a Jack Kerouac Alley. For some risqué reads, also check out The Dharma Burns, Mexico City Blues, and Visions of Cody.
A native of the Bay Area, Daniel Handler enjoys a vast readership of both children and adults — you might know him better as Lemony Snicket, his pen name, and associate him with A Series of Unfortunate Events, a whimsical yet incredibly clever series that puts a inventive spin on the whole Murphy’s Law philosophy. With almost 20 works published, Handler is also branching out into both the music and film industries, as an accordion player and the writer of two screenplays, Kill the Poor and Rick. Although the titles wouldn’t suggest it, A Series of Unfortunate Events are great for a lighter read.
Amy Tan is a contemporary American author that has spent her entire life in the Bay Area thus far. Many of her works have familial themes, particularly describing the rollercoaster relationships between mothers and daughters. Her most notable work is The Joy Luck Club, with the backdrop in San Francisco, chronicling the lives of immigrant families — fitting to the diversity that can easily be found at every corner of the city.