Written by Diane Mallstrom, Reference Librarian, Downtown Main Library

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is hosting a symposium September 28 celebrating the 150th anniversary of Lafcadio Hearn’s arrival in the United States and Cincinnati. It also is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Lafcadio Hearn Society/USA in Cincinnati. There will be five speakers with various expertise regarding Hearn’s life and works:

  •  Dr. Kinji Tanaka, chairman of the Japan Research Center of Greater Cincinnati – “The Story behind My Groundbreaking Research Findings on the Ship Hearn took and the departure and arrival in the U.S.”
  • Steve Kemme, president of the Lafcadio Hearn Society/USA, retired Cincinnati Enquirer reporter – “Lafcadio Hearn’s Relationship with and Writings About Cincinnati’s African-Americans.”
  • Kevin Grace, archivist and head of the Archives and Rare Books Library at the University of Cincinnati – “Ireland’s Support and Development for Favorite Son, Lafcadio Hearn.”
  • Mary Gallagher, professor of French and Francophone Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland – “Lafcadio Hearn’s Cincinnati Period: Whose Stories Mattered?”
  • Dr. Noriko Tsunoda Reider, Japanese professor & program adviser, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio – “Snow Woman: Yuki Onna, a Mysterious Woman in the Mountain.”

So who was Lafcadio Hearn? Born on the Greek Island of Lefkas to a Greek mother and Irish father in 1850, Hearn was raised by a great-aunt. He spent only eight years in Cincinnati (1869-1877), but this is where he honed his craft as a writer. He came here as a 19-year-old, abandoned by his family, and penniless. He was befriended by a printer, Henry Watkins. Their friendship lasted the remainder of Watkins’ life, and he dubbed Lafcadio with the nickname – The Raven.

Early on, Hearn’s writing style and interest in the gruesome and macabre was similar to Edgar Allen Poe. He first wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1872-1875 and later the Cincinnati Commercial. There is a wonderful selection of his more vivid articles in a book called Period of the Gruesome: Selected Cincinnati Journalism of Lafcadio Hearn.

While in Cincinnati, Hearn briefly produced a weekly satirical newspaper with artist Henry Farny called Ye Giglampz. With the title, Hearn was poking fun at his thick glasses. Due to a childhood accident, he was blind in his left eye. The paper only ran for nine issues, and the Library owns the only existing original issues. He was often found at the old Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, frequently spending his free time reading and researching. For a short time, he was the private secretary to the Library Director Thomas Vickers.

Hearn left Cincinnati for New Orleans in 1877 where he went in a new direction documenting creole food culture recipes. He lived in New Orleans and Martinique for some time before settling down in Japan in 1890. He was interested in the diverse cultures, folklore and faith systems. He eventually became a Buddhist.

Beloved in Japan, Hearn was the first Westerner to write about Japanese culture and translate their ghost stories and customs into English. (image 3) He took a Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo, when he married Koizumi Setsu. They raised four children while he taught English in various locations in Japan. There is now a Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum next to the site of his home in Matuse, Japan. Hearn died in Tokyo, Japan, September 26, 1904.

For more information on Lafcadio Hearn and several digitized publications of his works visit our Digital Library. The Lafcadio Hearn Anniversary Symposium is at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 28 in the Huenefeld Tower Room at the Downtown Main Library. 

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