Go West, Young Man. This Poet Did . . .

A poet and playwright who was recognized in the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the greatest American poets of the early 20th century

Item of the Week
From the East Hampton Library
Long Island Collection

Aside from its collection of historical materials, the Long Island Collection possesses quite a bit of literature by Long Island authors. The portrait at right is of George Sterling, a poet and playwright who was recognized in the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the greatest American poets of the early 20th century.

Born in Sag Harbor on Dec. 1, 1869, Sterling was the first of nine children of Dr. George A. Sterling, the village physician, and Mary Parker Havens Sterling. On his mother’s side, the Havens family was prominent in Sag Harbor and on Shelter Island, and his grandfather Capt. Wickham Havens was a whaler and master of the ship Thomas Dickinson. Sterling’s uncle was Frank C. Havens, who would come to have a big influence on his nephew’s life.

After graduating from the Union School in Sag Harbor, Sterling attended St. Charles College in Maryland, after which his father hoped he would enter the priesthood. Sterling, however, eventually followed his uncle to San Francisco, where Havens had established himself as a successful lawyer and real estate developer. 

While working as a clerk in his uncle’s real estate office in Oakland, in 1903 Sterling published a small volume of poetry titled “The Testimony of the Suns, and Other Poems” and quickly gained notoriety among the artists and writers there. It was shortly afterward that the portrait at left was taken by the photographer Arnold Genthe, known for his images of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and various notable figures.

Between 1903 and his death in 1926, Sterling would go on to write 12 volumes of lyric poetry and five volumes of dramatic poetry. His best-known work was “A Wine of Wizardry.” Despite his successes, Sterling never became well known outside California, but it is important to remember this Long Island poet.

 


Gina Piastuck is the department head of the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.