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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Writing to illuminate conflict and triumph

“Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.” – Martha Gellhorn

Quoting the amazing journalist Martha Gellhorn just seemed like the right thing to do on this Election Day.  Besides, it’s the anniversary of her birth – in 1908 in St. Louis.  While she was born and raised in the heartland of America, she became a product of and reporter on the world; some of the finest reporting, news and feature writing ever done by an American journalist.  

And while she wrote about every topic from government to society, it was her war correspondence for which she is most noted, reporting on every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career (she died in 1998 at age 90).   In 1999 The Martha Gellhorn Prize in Journalism (given annually for reporting excellence) was established in her memory and honor.

Along the way she also became a part of the lore surrounding Ernest Hemingway, ultimately becoming his third wife.  It was a marriage that grew out of their time together covering the carnage of the Spanish Civil War.  From there they both were reporters during the Second World War II, although it may have been their competition as writers that eventually caused them to drift apart. 

Gellhorn brought new passion and depth to her war coverage stories.  Her book, The Face of War, is one of the best you’ll ever read about this remarkable reporter’s work.  It’s both a chronicle and a primer on effectively writing about conflict, its terrors, and aftermath.
Although newswriting was her career field,                    
she also published books of fiction, did travel writing and p.r., and wrote reams of correspondence.  Her selected letters were published posthumously in 2006.   In them, her fierce independence as a writer shines through.  “I have no intention,” she once stated, “of being a footnote in someone else’s life.”   Instead, many became the footnotes in hers.

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