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The American essays of renowned writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) artistically chronicle the robust urban life of Cincinnati and New Orleans. Hearn is one of the few chroniclers of urban American life in the nineteenth century, and much of this material has not been widely available since the 1950s. Lafcadio Hearn's America collects Hearn's stories of vagabonds, river people, mystics, criminals, and some of the earliest accounts available of black and ethnic urban folklife in America. He was a frequently consulted expert on America during his years in Japan, and these editorials reflect on the problems and possibilities of American life as the country entered its greatest century. Hearn’s work, which reflects an America that is less “melting pot” than a varied, spicy, and often exotic gumbo, provide essential background for the study of America’s first steps away from its agrarian beginnings.
"Simon Bronner’s illuminating introduction traces Lafcadio Hearn's early years as a newspaper reporter, a formative period in his career when he acted as ‘a wandering ethnographic outsider’ who carefully documented the underside of American city life. Bronner's essay and the writings gathered in this edited collection establish Hearn as not only an important critic and chronicler of American culture, but also a notable figure in journalism history—a pioneer of the urban realism later embraced by reform journalists such as Jacob Riis and Lincoln Steffens."—Carolyn Kitch
"Capturing Hearn’s genius in this collection and in his especially good introduction, Bronner provides a work that will be valuable to those meeting Hearn for the first time and to more advanced scholars pursuing an interest in Hearn’s accomplishments."—Choice
"Many of the 32 essays collected here document the complex interplay of race, class, ethnicity and language that continues to play out on the city’s streets to this day."—Cincinnati Enquirer
"Lafcadio Hearn observed a 19th century America examined by few of his contemporaries, so this collection which makes a number of his writings newly assessable is a welcome contribution to the study of American culture. This well-chosen selection is ably pulled together by Simon Bronner’s introduction, which refocuses attention on Hearn as folklorist and insightfully points to his skills as ethnographer."—Frank de Caro
"Bronner has succeeded admirably in assembling and introducing a selection of ethnographic sketches and editorials bound to stimulate a new appreciation of Hearn as an ethnographer of everyday life. Bronner’s thoughtful introduction explores the niche between journalism and ethnography as he recounts Hearn’s life and work, and Bronner makes a persuasive case for the quality of Hearn’s work in that niche. Given the current blurring of the previously sharp boundaries between fiction and ethnography, Hearn’s writings deserve the new audience Bronner’s book will bring."—Jay Mechling
"Bronner has made a superb selection of Hearn’s shorter writings on American culture and does a fine job placing him in the context of American search for ‘tradition.’ Lafacadio Hearn’s America serves as an excellent entry point for folklorists into this important figure in the history of our discipline."—Journal of American Folklore
"Rescues Hearn’s journalism, reveals its dark brilliance, and makes a strong case for Hearn’s inclusion in any account of journalism history."—Journalism History
"A convenient, imaginative, informative, and important collection of Hearn’s ethnographic writings, a superlative job of selecting and editing."—Louisiana History
"Reprints a fascinating selection of Hearn’s newspaper articles published in Cincinnati and New Orleans in which he delved into the culture and lifestyles of fishermen of Filipino origin, Jewish butchers, Sicilians, German tannery workers and African-American voodoo priests."—New Orleans Times-Picayune
"His earlier newspaper columns from 1871 to 1889, which exposed the ethnic underclass life of Cincinnati and New Orleans, offer a significant contribution to the historian’s understanding of the Gilded Age."—Ohioana Quarterly
"Makes available much of Hearn’s best fugitive journalism. . . . Conveys a sense of urban life in 19th-century America with the flair and vividness that one might expect from a man who could see blues where others saw only blue."—Washington Times
"Serves an important function for those of us interested in the development of America. The industrialization and urbanization of America in the postbellum period had a profound effect on how and what cultural influences obtained in the lives of families and individuals."—Western Folklore
"Bronner brings together thirty-two individual sketches and editorials that demonstrate what Bronner calls ‘Hearn’s ethnographic approach to writing and his views of America.’"—Resources for American Literary Study
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Lafcadio Hearn, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Travel literature
United States History
Hearn, Lafcadio and Bronner, Simon J., "Lafcadio Hearn's America: Ethnographic Sketches and Editorials" (2002). United States History. 92.