Media Life: Auburn’s All-Time Top 5 Authors

Literary luminaries abound but who are the cream of the local crop?
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s

Gus Thomson

can be reached at

or (530) 852-0232.       

After last week’s foray into the wonderful world of Auburn’s All-Time Top 10 Musicians, Media Life dares to delves into the universe of literary luminaries – of which, once again, this community can raise its voice proudly in a collective humblebrag.

Homegrown writers or authors who have made Auburn and its environs home have cropped up regularly over the years, making this Top 5 a particularly daunting one.

But there have been five who stand out among the many deserving authors. The rankings provide a glimpse into some of the best Auburn has offered readers over the years:

5. Persia Woolley. A Placer High School grad, Class of 1954, Woolley haunted the old Carnegie Library on Almond Street in Downtown Auburn, soaking up literature that would serve her in good stead when she embarked on a writing life that started in 1974 with a book that drew on her own experiences (“Creative Survival for Single Mothers”) and blossomed with the publication of a trilogy of still-popular historical fiction tomes revolving around King Arthur’s queen Guinevere. “Children of the Northern Spring” (1987), “Queen of the Summer Stars” (1990) and “Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn” (1993) spawned a hammy made-for-TV movie and plenty of critical plaudits for the series’ feminist subtext.

4. Steve Martini. You may know him as the wildly successful novelist of thrillers that regularly land on the New York Times bestseller lists. Think “Prime Witness,” “Undue Influence,” “The Judge,” and “Compelling Evidence.” But Meadow Vistans of a certain vintage would remember Martini as a neighbor as he commuted to work in Sacramento as both an attorney and judge during the 1980s. Now living in Washington State, Martini has had two network miniseries made from his work and his latest – “Blood Flag” – is slated for release by publisher G.P. Putnam & Sons on Tuesday. It’s part of the popular Paul Madriani series.

3. Ranking the Top 3 is a toughie but Media Life is going to go with Jackson Gregory in the No. 3 slot. Not a well-known name today, Gregory was a prolific and successful Western and detective novelist from the 1910s through the 1940s. He lived in Auburn starting in 1917, moving to Pasadena 15 years later. Gregory died while visiting his brother in Auburn in 1943. Gregory wrote more than 40 novels, with many being made into films during the silent era.

1. A tie. Clark Ashton Smith was an incredibly gifted short-story writer and poet in the fantasy realm. Morton Thompson’s star shone bright for a brief flickering moment, snuffed out by an early death.

First Smith. Born in Long Valley, an area just south of Auburn off Auburn Folsom Road, Smith was one-of-a-kind – and the literary world didn’t know what to do with him.

With little formal schooling, Smith read – and then re-read – the Encyclopedia Britannica cover-to-cover and digested dictionaries. Wordy and eclectic, he found favor in San Francisco art circles and was hailed as “The Boy Keats of the Sierras” at 17.

But the heavy mantle of fame wasn’t something young Smith handled well and he retreated to his Auburn home and continuing poverty after publication of the legendary “The Star-Treader and Other Poems.” He would continue to publish limited editions of his work but then take a turn into fantasy fiction in the 1930s, writing influential stories for pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales and corresponding with kindred spirit H.P. Lovecraft. Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury were among his devotees.

Smith died in 1961 after living most of his life in Auburn. Poet Smith Drive is named for him and a rock monument has been placed in Old Town Auburn to mark his memory. The magic of his work continues to draw new generations of readers in, with rarely a year going by without a fresh anthology appearing to keep his words and wondrous stories alive.

Thompson lived two years in Auburn in the 1940s, working as a lab technician and soaking up imagery of small-town doctoring that he would adeptly work into his bestselling novel “Not As A Stranger.”

Thompson based his novel around characters he encountered in the Auburn area and the ensuing novel became one of the biggest-selling books of 1954 nationally. A year later, “Not As A Stranger” was made into a major motion picture, with Stanley Kramer in the director’s chair and Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra in lead roles. The movie was a box office hit but any lasting recognition for “Not As A Stranger” or Thompson, for that matter, never materialized. Sadly, Thompson’s death in mid-1953 at age 46 closed the door tightly shut on a literary career that held much promise and produced one monumental work.

Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or (530) 852-0232.  And the photo shows, from left, Thompson, Smith, Woolley, Gregory and Martini.