FROM MY READING CHAIR

THE TELLING OF LIVES, PART II

Autobiography

Emily Hahn wrote for The New Yorker for a period spanning the late 1920’s into the 1990’s; a prolific writer, she wrote various autobiographies, including No Hurry to Get Home.

A unique person and writer, Hahn went her independent way in a world awakening to feminine realities. Of her parents’ six children, she appears to have been the precocious one, always testing the standards and mores of her time. When Hahn describes tales of her childhood, it is easy to see her emergence as a singular woman. She makes her own mark in the family, little understood, always loved and marveled about even when her parents were mystified by her.

Bought up in St. Louis and Chicago, she was the first young woman to graduate with a degree in mining engineering from the University of Wisconsin. She took a job out west and saw men assigned to the oil fields while she remained a file clerk despite her training. After that, she seldom took a routine job, turning to horse trail guide in Santa Fe and eventually finding her way to Columbia University and the bohemian lifestyle of NYC.

Always a writer of letters to her large family, it was her brother-in-law’s 1929 submission of her work to the recently developed New Yorker magazine that gave Hahn her start as a writer. Her life was made by her into one huge adventure throughout the world. She wrote of what she saw and felt against the backdrop of history-in-the-making. This book, and her earlier autobiographies, came out of her many articles written for The New Yorker. As such there is a certain scatter and the feeling of missed stories hinted at by Ken Cuthbertson in the introduction to the 2000 edition of No Hurry to Get Home.

At Christmas 1932, Hahn was trapped in the Belgian Congo after following an archaeologist there and seeing him turn into a colonial tyrant. She took refuge with a British couple while trying to get a ride to the coast from a trucking company. Her request was denied for nefarious reasons. I found her description of the area very lyrical:

            “…I have a vivid recollection of the country, the unfenced miles of red soil open to a brilliantly sunny sky. Far off, mountains crouched like blue tigers.”

To discover the rest of the Emily Hahn story I will have to seek out four of her earlier books: China to Me (1944), Hong Kong Holiday (1946), England to Me (1949), and Kissing Cousins (1958.)

My thanks go to author Sharon Hamilton for bringing this exciting woman to my attention.

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