Backstory to Old Tales of San Francisco


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When I first agreed to teach the “Biography of a City: San Francisco” Humanities class in the early 1970s, my first task was to try to find an anthology of writings about the city from the earliest times — the 1770s, if possible.


Oscar Lewis’s San Francisco: Mission to Metropolis was my choice — in fact, the only choice — of a history text for the background. But for the readings, I had to do the research and assemble the poems, stories, travel essays, etc. myself. I also wrote a preliminary introduction for each piece. Finally, after months of effort, I had enough work done to combine the writings into a single xeroxed volume for my students to use.


After a year a passed, a man from Kendall-Hunt Publishing showed up at my office. He admired the work, which I had titled Old Tales of San Francisco. After learning that the class (which had multiple sections) enrolled hundreds of students, he offered to publish the work and give me a modest royalty. I accepted with pleasure and so, for the next several decades, I and my colleagues were able to use those works that I had chosen.