The captivating biography of the trailblazing New Yorker journalist and feminist who traveled the world reporting on the tumultuous cultural and political currents of the twentieth century
Emily Hahn first challenged traditional gender roles in 1922 when she enrolled in the University of Wisconsin’s all-male College of Engineering, wearing trousers, smoking cigars, and adopting the nickname “Mickey.” Her love of writing led her to Manhattan, where she sold her first story to the New Yorker in 1929, launching a sixty-eight-year association with the magazine and a lifelong friendship with legendary editor Harold Ross. Imbued with an intense curiosity and zest for life, Hahn traveled to the Belgian Congo during the Great Depression, working for the Red Cross; set sail for Shanghai, becoming a Chinese poet’s concubine; had an illegitimate child with the head of the British Secret Service in Hong Kong, where she carried out underground relief work during World War II; and explored newly independent India in the 1950s. Back in the United States, Hahn built her literary career while also becoming a pioneer environmentalist and wildlife conservator.
With a rich understanding of social history and a keen eye for colorful details and amusing anecdotes, author Ken Cuthbertson brings to life a brilliant, unconventional woman who traveled fearlessly because “nobody said not to go.” Hahn wrote hundreds of acclaimed articles and short stories as well as fifty books in many genres, and counted among her friends Rebecca West, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Jomo Kenyatta, and Madame and General Chiang Kai-shek.
A globe-trotting New Yorker writer for 68 years--almost until her death last year at age 92--Emily Hahn notoriously chose the "uncertain path," and Cuthbertson does her adventures justice as long as the momentum holds. The first third presents the clearest picture of Hahn, without exotic trappings: Flouting convention early, Hahn graduated from the University of Wisconsin as a mining engineer, just to prove that a woman could. Through the 1920s she fledged as a writer and traveler, mingling with, but never quite joining, the smart set. Then in 1929, the New Yorker's editor and founder Harold Ross, took her on, saying, "You have a great talent.... You can be cattier than anyone I know." In 1930, she traveled alone to Penge, a remote backwater in the Congo, where her host, an American pal, turned into a kind of Mr. Kurtz, provided grist for a memoir, Congo Sale, and a novel, With Naked Foot. Hahn's exploits crested with her stay in Shanghai and Hong Kong from 1935 through 1943. Her life makes for heady cinematic stuff: her social gadding; affair with Chinese poet Sinmay Zau; opium addiction; child with and eventual marriage to Hong Kong's head of British intelligence, Charles Boxer (all set against the battle for Shanghai and the fall of Hong Kong). Unhappily, Cuthbertson begins to fall for his own melodrama ("Was that a glistening in his eyes, or was it a trick of the light?"), and the postwar pages become a tame resume of domestic arrangements and literary outpouring.