finding Ella Higginson…

November 6, 2014

words by Ella Higginson

This is a guest post by Laura Laffrado.

Though Ella Rhoads Higginson 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 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. Her celebrated writings were the very first to prominently place the Pacific Northwest on the literary map of the United States.

In addition to works of fiction and nonfiction, Higginson was the author of four books of poetry (which contained over three hundred poems). Her poems appeared regularly in leading periodicals of the day alongside works by other renowned authors. Many of her poems were set to music and performed internationally by celebrated dramatic singers such as Enrico Caruso. And in 1931, Higginson was chosen to be the first Poet Laureate of Washington State.

In her day, Higginson and her writing attracted international literary attention to the Pacific Northwest. However, by the time she died, in 1940, both she and her work were almost completely forgotten. They remain virtually forgotten today. It is my project to reintroduce Higginson’s engaging writings to a new audience of appreciative readers and to begin to reestablish her once-celebrated literary reputation.

To whet your poetry appetite, I offer a sonnet by Higginson that pays homage to our corner of the world:

Semiahmoo Spit

     One long, low, narrow strip of glistening sands
     Flung out into the Georgian Gulf; one wide,
     Blue sweep of sunlit waves on every side.
     Around it reach the hills, like emerald bands,
     And farther, higher, more majestic, stands
     Mount Baker, chaste and white—the ocean’s bride.
     With noiseless feet the pearl-topped waters glide,
     Pushing each other up the black tide-lands;
     Here wild, sweet roses, like an amethyst cloud,
     Make pink the air and scent the languorous breeze
     That wantons over these far western seas;
     And when the sun drops downward, flaming, proud,
     This stretch of water, petaled fold on fold,
     Seems one great crimson poppy, fleck’d with gold.

. . . . .

To learn more, read Dean Kahn’s article, WWU professor hopes to resurrect Ella Higginson’s legacy, in the Bellingham Herald, visit The Ella Higginson Project and watch this C-SPAN Interview with Dr. Laura Laffrado about The Ella Higginson Recovery Project.

On Thursday, November 13, 2014, 10:00am-Noon, in Old City Hall (Bellingham, WA), the Whatcom Museum will present Laura Laffrado discussing Ella Higginson’s rise to international acclaim and championship of literacy in her home of Bellingham in the early 20th century. The talk is free to the public.

. . . . .

Laura LaffradoLaura Laffrado, award-winning Professor of English at Western Washington University, has published widely on American literature. Her latest book, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson, will be published in spring 2015.

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