Iris Jamahl Dunkle


Photograph by Teresa Sawyer

Iris Jamahl Dunkle is an award-winning literary biographer, essayist, and poet. Her academic and creative work challenges the Western myth of progress by examining the devastating impact that agriculture and over-population have had, and continue to have, on the North American West. Taking an ecofeminist bent, her writing also challenges the American West’s male-oriented recorded history by researching the lives of women. She obtained her MFA in poetry from New York University, and her PhD in American Literature from Case Western Reserve University.

Dunkle’s West : Fire : Archive is a poetry collection that challenges preconceived, androcentric ideas about biography, autobiography, and history fueled by the Western myth of progress presented in Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis.” Each section is presented as if it is an archival box filled with artifacts, the first of which opens to the maligned life of Charmian Kittredge London the wife of the famous author Jack London. The poems unstitch and resew her life, invigorating the old narrative with her forgotten attributes: her disregard of gender norms, her pioneer heritage, and her sense of adventure. The second archival box examines the act of autobiography. In it, Dunkle writes through the complex grief of losing her mother and her community when it is devastated by wildfires and reflects on how these disasters echo the one that brought her family to California, the Dust Bowl. The final archival box questions the authenticity of the definition of recorded history as it relates to the American West.

In 2020, her biography on Charmian Kittredge London, Jack London's wife, was published by the University of Oklahoma Press. It’s a work that questions and rewrites the narrative presented of Jack and Charmian London by fictional biographers like Irving Stone by recreating Charmian's life through her perspective. Dunkle believes that biography can be revolutionary; it can challenge established ideas that have been fixed in history and through careful research resurrect the lives of those who have been misremembered. Charmian Kittredge London was a New Woman, an author, and an adventurer whose accomplishments (and disruptions) history had all but forgotten. Prominent Jack London scholar and author of Jack London: An American Life Earle Labor called Dunkle’s work “essential reading” and claimed that it was the “biography Charmian would have wanted to have written about her life.” Jack London Scholar, Jonah Raskin called the book "riveting. . . . This biography sets the record as straight as it can be straightened. . . . Despite her flaws, or perhaps because of them, Charmian is indeed the kind of woman whom one would love to have known.”

Dunkle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.