Whatcom Magazine

Professor edits sampler of once-famous writer Ella Higginson

Laura Laffrado, a Western Washington University English professor who has researched the life and works of Bellingham writer Ella Higginson, edited the new “Selected Writings of Ella Higginson,” published by Whatcom County Historical Society.
Laura Laffrado, a Western Washington University English professor who has researched the life and works of Bellingham writer Ella Higginson, edited the new “Selected Writings of Ella Higginson,” published by Whatcom County Historical Society. The Bellingham Herald

Laura Laffrado’s effort to revive public and academic interest in a once-popular Bellingham writer took a big step forward recently with the publication of “Selected Writings of Ella Higginson; Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature.”

Born in Kansas and raised in Oregon, Higginson lived in Bellingham from 1888 until she died in 1940. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, she won national acclaim for her poems, short stories, a novel and her non-fiction writing. Critics put her among the ranks of the greats, yet Higginson fell into literary obscurity by the time she died.

Laffrado, an English professor at Western Washington University, hopes the new book will grab the attention of local readers — “It’s such a pleasure to see Bellingham in Ella Higginson’s writings as it was over a century ago,” she says — as well as with people generally interested in regional authors and forgotten women writers.

The 351-page book includes a list of Higginson’s writings, a chronology of her life, and Laffrado’s 29-page introduction that looks at Higginson’s work from a Northwest and national perspective.

“There’s so little that’s generally available about her that’s reliable information,” Laffrado says.

In addition to the literary and historical importance of Higginson, her writing, itself, warrants fresh attention, she says.

“They’re meant to evoke certain emotions, and they’re still very successful at doing that,” Laffrado says.

Rather than have the book handled by a university press, Laffrado opted to have it published by the Whatcom County Historical Society, which could move more quickly on the project.

“I felt that Ella Higginson had been out of print long enough,” she says. “I didn’t want to wait another year.”

Carole Teshima, the society’s president, says it was painstaking work to edit Higginson’s writings from old periodicals, but was worth the effort.

“It’s faithfully reproduced,” Teshima says. “I really expect this to be our crowning achievement.”

Looking ahead, Laffrado might write a biography of Higginson. She also hopes to find a publisher for Higginson’s novel, “Mariella, of Out-West,” which has been out of print since the 1920s.

“’Mariella’ is the foundational novel of the Pacific Northwest,” Laffrado says. “There’s really nothing else like it.”

New book

“Selected Writings of Ella Higginson; Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature,” edited by Laura Laffrado. $24.95, from Whatcom County Historical Society. The book is available through the society’s website and Village Books.

Coming up

Laffrado will discuss “Selected Writings of Ella Higginson” at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Laffrado will teach a community class about Higginson from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19. The class is through the Academy for Lifelong Learning, at WWU. Details and cost: 360-650-4970 and AcadLL@wwu.edu.

  Comments