When a literary legend died in British Columbia at 101 years of age in February, the University of Victoria was bestowed an enormous honour – it was gifted the personal and literary archives of the renowned journalist, author, activist and “truth-teller.”
“Edith Iglauer’s contributions to literature are significant, as are her archives that document her journalism and non-fiction works over eight decades,” said UVic director of special collections and university archivist Lara Wilson. “UVic is honoured to be the home to this material.”
Born in 1917 in Cleveland, Ohio, Iglauer died Feb. 13 in Garden Bay on the west coast of British Columbia just weeks shy of her 102nd birthday.
At a time when glass ceilings were rampant, Iglauer made a name for herself reporting from places where the only thing above her head was a blanket of stars – on seasonal ice roads in the Northwest Territories, dogsleds in northern Quebec or a salmon troller in the sea off British Columbia’s wild West Coast.
“This is Edith admiring people who defy gravity,” said Iglauer’s son Jay Hamburger, artistic director for Theatre In the Raw in Vancouver. “Edith’s choices of who she wrote about were people who were somewhat fearless.”
With a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1939, the incredibly inquisitive Iglauer began her career as one of a handful of female Second World War correspondents, working from the radio newsroom of the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. She covered former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s weekly news conferences at the White House – something Iglauer noted as a high point in her career. She then travelled to Italy and Yugoslavia, covering the war for The Cleveland News.
The UVic collection includes her war correspondent writing and work at the U.S. Office of War Information, along with material covering Eleanor Roosevelt’s speeches.
Iglauer married Philip Hamburger, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, in 1942 after meeting at Columbia Journalism School. The marriage would last over 20 years, giving birth to two sons – Jay and Richard – who the couple raised in New York City. Though the marriage would end, the strength of the couple’s friendship remained for life.
“Each was the other’s best reader,” said son Richard Hamburger, a teacher and theatre director in New York City. “They remained extremely close. They would talk often and read each other their writing. They respected each other a lot.”
Iglauer was covering the planning for the UN’s New York headquarters when her first son Jay was born. When her youngest Richard was 10, she started contributing to The New Yorker, becoming a staff writer in 1961.
Both sons have memories of Iglauer waking up at four in the morning to hammer out stories on her typewriter before she had to get the boys up for school at 7:30 a.m.
“She got up very, very early. I would wake up and hear the typewriter. Then she would grab every odd moment in the day to sit down and write more,” said Richard Hamburger.
“Edith was extremely hard working. She was very daring, innovative and by some miracle she had an innate sense of what would make a good story,” said Jay Hamburger.
It was during this time that Iglauer stuck her head out a window in their eighth-storey apartment building in New York and grew concerned about air pollution, leading to articles on the topic published in The New Yorker.
Iglauer’s sons give great credit to William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker at the time, for “a remarkable eye and brilliant mind for listening to Edith.”
“William Shawn was a great editor. He believed in long shots so he took chances if he thought someone was sincere and gifted. He would give them time and space,” said Richard Hamburger. “The more interesting and far out the more drawn he was to it – he was kind of a revolutionary under the surface.”
So in 1961 when Iglauer proposed riding into Arctic Quebec on a dogsled to describe the historic meeting of the first Inuit to form their own economic co-operative, Shawn supported the idea. It was Iglauer’s first introduction to Canada.
Shortly after Pierre Trudeau became prime minister, Iglauer wrote an in-depth profile about him for The New Yorker – an endeavour that apparently frustrated her on numerous occasions for the lack of time she was given with him.
After the piece was published in 1969, Trudeau accepted an invitation to dine at Iglauer’s home during a trip to New York, and Iglauer was stunned when he showed up with Barbra Streisand.
The UVic collection includes original notes for her articles in The New Yorker and files on Pierre Trudeau that include photographs, letters and notes from his dinner at Iglauer’s apartment.
In 1973, Iglauer flew to Vancouver for an assignment about fishing. She met fisherman John Daly, fell in love and moved to his home at Garden Bay on the B.C. coast in 1974. The next four years would be some of the best of her life, abruptly cut short by the tragic death of Daly on a dance floor in 1978.
The short but passionate relationship led to one the most significant pieces of Iglauer’s career – the memoir, Fishing with John. The love story, that accurately portrays a salmon fisher’s way of life, was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction.
Iglauer would stay on in Canada for the remainder of her life. She would later meet and marry Frank White, father of Harbour Publishing publisher Howard White, who published much of Iglauer’s work. The two lived together in John Daly’s former house at Garden Bay, where Iglauer would remain until the end.
The collection now at the UVic Archives contains thousands of items including correspondence with artist Bill Reid, famed architect Arthur Erickson and writer Doris Shadbolt, as well as letters from fans of Fishing with John.
“She lived many lives – it is an extraordinary journey from Cleveland, Ohio to the Arctic,” said Richard Hamburger.
Iglauer was awarded a doctor of laws degree, honoris causa, from the University of Victoria in 2006. She was deeply moved and called it one of the greatest experiences of her life.
“So often writers can be overlooked. She wasn’t a braggart. She is a marvellous mind, very honest, but she wasn’t out there promoting herself,” said Jay Hamburger. “The work was the focus. It was more important that the work would get highlighted, so it was a real honour when UVic came forward.”
“It was a feather in their cap and feather in her cap,” said Richard Hamburger. “So it seemed fitting to provide her papers to its students, faculty and future scholars who use their facilities.”
Wilson said UVic is honoured to be the home to the material, which is “a rich source of information on 20th-century history, the writing process and Edith Iglauer’s life.”
“I feel like she was something like a meteor that flew across the sky and you’d look up and something very bright and shiny would dazzle you. She could really light up a room,” said Richard Hamburger. “She’ll be missed by so many people. And missed by me more than I can say.”
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