Forgotten Greats: Ella Rhoads Higginson

Though author Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940) is little known today, over a century ago she was the most influential Pacific Northwest literary writer in the United States. People across the nation and around the world were first introduced to the Pacific Northwest and the people who lived there when they read Higginson’s award-winning poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Higginson’s descriptions of the majestic mountains, vast forests, and scenic waters of the Puget Sound presented the then-remote, unfamiliar Pacific Northwest to eager readers.

Higginson’s talent was widely recognized during her lifetime. She had a major New York publisher in the prestigious Macmillan Company and was awarded best short story prizes from well-known magazines such as Collier’s, McClure’s, Peterson’s, and Short Stories.Reviewers compared her writing to works by renowned authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Leo Tolstoy, and Émile Zola, among others. Many of her poems were set to music and performed internationally by celebrated dramatic singers such as Enrico Caruso. In 1931, Higginson was elected the first Poet Laureate of Washington State. However, by the time she died, both she and her work were almost completely forgotten. They are only now being restored to their justly merited places in the history of American literature.

The poems contained in this folio exhibit Higginson’s global range (Alaska, Greece, New York, Sweden), one that nonetheless always returns to an embrace of the regional. The poems also reveal Higginson’s writerly consciousness of artistic endeavor–how to write, why to write, how to think about writing. A letter from Higginson’s rich correspondence with Oregon State author and historian Alfred Powers is also included. In this letter, written at the end of her life, Higginson reflects on the beginnings of her long and prolific literary career, her reasons for writing, and the decline of her reputation after the First World War.

 


LAURA LAFFRADO is most recently the author of Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature, which was awarded the 2018 Edition Award by the Society for the Study of American Women Writers.

 

For more information about Ella Higginson, please visit www.ellahigginson.blogspot.com. 

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