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Edith Iglauer

I can hardly believe this great honour is happening to me! I started writing when I was a small girl, and I still write because I can't stop writing. In 1939 I was attending the School of Journalism at Columbia University when I sold my first articles, to newspapers in my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, and to the first women's page at The Christian Science Monitor. I wrote for The Cleveland News for many years. Its editor, Nat Howard, was a beginning writer's dream; critical, witty, and part teacher.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of good teaching at an early age. My parents were determined that I attend university and switched me in high school to a college preparatory institution, Hathaway Brown School for Girls. I missed the boys, but I had two great teachers; Anna Blake in Latin, who revealed the magic music of Virgil's poetry; and our otherwise formidable head mistress, Millicent Raymond, who gave a thrilling course in English composition and literature. The day before graduation she called me into her office, and said "Never stop writing." I hear her every time I start a new writing project.

My Mother was a constant reader, with excellent taste, a rollicking sense of humour and enthusiasm for adventures my Father suggested. We spent almost every weekend at a small cabin by the Chagrin River outside Cleveland, which gave me a lifelong preference for country living. From the time I could walk or sit on a horse I hiked and rode with my Dad. I loved his free spirit, insatiable curiosity and passion for the environment.

Right after Pearl Harbour in World War II I went to work in Washington, D.C. in the radio newsroom of the Office of War Information. We relayed news from the free world and from Nazi-occupied countries to their inhabitants, who listened to our broadcasts at their peril. I was in charge of the Scandinavian and religious desks. At my suggestion we added coverage of Eleanor Roosevelt's weekly press conference in the White House. As the newest and youngest reporter there, I kept my mouth shut, learned a lot and loved being part of her intimate circle of reporters. In 1945, I reluctantly left them to go overseas on assignment for The Cleveland News. I had married The New Yorker writer, Philip Hamburger, in Washington in 1942, and he was now the magazine's war correspondent in the Mediterranean Theatre. I joined him in Rome and we went to what was then Yugoslavia, eventually coming home with the troops, on the Queen Mary. The shocking destruction from bombings that I saw everywhere, especially in London, made a confirmed peace marcher out of me.

Back in New York, the United Nations was evolving, and I attended those earliest UN proceedings for Harper's magazine. My first son, Jay, was born while I was writing about the planning for the UN's New York headquarters.

I began working at the point in my life when most married women almost automatically made the choice that husband and children came first. Any career was sandwiched in between their needs and demands, so I set my alarm and got up at 4:00 A.M. to write. That gave me three hours alone, and after my children were dispatched to school I continued working until they came home about three. In the evenings I accompanied my husband, whose social and professional life centred in The New Yorker. For a year and a half right after Jay was born Phil was its music critic. Every night we went to a different musical event, sometimes two, and I slept through the most beautiful concerts and operas imaginable. We also entertained frequently, with me as hostess, cook, and kitchenmaid. It never occurred to me to have it any other way, but the first money I earned from writing went for an automatic dishwasher.

We were living in a third-floor walkup railroad apartment, which is a strip of small rooms one behind the other. When I became pregnant, Harold Ross, the revered founder of The New Yorker, called his friend and our landlord, Vincent Astor, and got us a bigger apartment. I was so in awe of Mr. Ross and his vision of humour that was embedded in the magazine. The late William Shawn, who succeeded him, focused on social issues, and the present editor, David Remnick, a superb writer himself, brilliantly covers the scary politics and people of our time. Always, The New Yorker has demanded writing at its best. When Bill Shawn became editor, he urged me to write for him. My younger son, Richie, was ten when I started turning in notes for the "Talk of the Town" section. I always have had my own ideas, and I began writing long fact pieces under my own name. My two pieces about air pollution inspired passage of a law through New York's City Council requiring the local giant power company, Consolidated Edison, to burn a lighter, less polluting oil.

In 1961 a hankering for adventure gave me confidence to ride into Arctic Quebec on a dogsled without a clue as to where I was going, to report an historic meeting of Inuit families. They would become the first northern aboriginals to establish their own economic co-operative, because their traditional nomadic life was no longer viable. They were desperate enough to unite, found a new settlement and experiment, assisted by dedicated officials from the Canadian government's Department of Northern Affairs, especially the chief of its Industrial Division, the late Donald Snowden.

It was my introduction to Canada, the first of many trips North. I always say that I came to Canada from the top down. I was totally smitten by the Canadian Arctic.

I realize now how unconsciously I entered into what was then viewed as a man's world. Being the only woman on those trips seemed perfectly natural and gave me treasured friends forever.

I never intended to live almost half my long life in Canada. I've had such a good time, and made relationships with wonderful people, especially my publisher, Howard White of Harbour Publishing, my husband, Franklin White, and Geist magazine's Mary Schendlinger, my other great editor besides The New Yorker's Bill Shawn.

When I was twelve, our school librarian gave me a copy of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by way of introduction to the great Russian novelists. From then on I wanted to write fiction, but events in the real world have been so compelling that they defy imagination. True happenings cry out for that special treatment we call creative non-fiction.

I like to think that my writing has contributed to mutual understanding between Canada and the United States.

I am still amazed at what happened to my article entitled "Canadians: The Strangers Next Door," published in 1973 in The Atlantic Monthly. For about ten years thereafter the National War College of the United States government annually sought and received my permission "to reproduce it for the faculty and students."

Most young and even middle-aged Canadians know almost nothing about the balance of power between the American Presidency, its Supreme Court and its Congress, the sacred foundation for good government in the United States. They vaguely recognize the name of the important American President,Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but do not know how his imaginative "New Deal" targeted unemployment in a major depression and transformed the nation into a stable symbol of a working democracy. We need the universities and creative journalism to provide historical perspective, so we never repeat the horrifying mistakes of the odious Bush administrations.

I think of creative journalism as making true stories readable. The still small voice of truth is what I hear when I am writing.

The recognition I have received from this fine University is one of the greatest experiences of my life and I am deeply moved. Thank you.