May 19, 1929|
New York City
August 3, 2004 (aged 75)|
New York City
The New York Times
Gaza: A Year in the Intifada (1991)
Loving Graham Greene (2000)
Gloria Emerson (May 19, 1929– August 3, 2004) was an American author, journalist and New York Times war correspondent. She won the 1978 National Book Award in Contemporary Thought for her book about the Vietnam War, Winners and Losers.
Background and personal
Emerson was born in Manhattan to wealthy bluebloods William B. Emerson and Ruth Shaw Emerson. According to a 1991 Washington Profile, Emerson's parents had been wealthy but lost their fortune (much of it derived from oil) through alcoholism.
It was in Saigon that she first began to write for the newspapers, freelancing for The New York Times in 1956. She was employed by the Times in 1957 to work on the women's page, but hated writing only about fashion. She quit in 1960 to marry, moving to Brussels, but divorced the following year. She was re-hired by the Times in 1964 to cover fashion in Paris. She transferred to the paper's London bureau in 1968, covering The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
John Lennon and the anti-war movement
In December 1969, Emerson conducted a very contentious interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Apple Records headquarters in London, during which she disputed the effectiveness of Lennon and Ono's anti-war campaign, undertaken at great professional and financial cost to the Lennons. Her skeptical approach enraged Lennon. Because of Emerson's own anti-establishment positions, the interview became famous as an example of the establishment press resistance to the Lennons' peace movement. The interview was prominently featured in the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon and the 2006 movie The U.S. vs. John Lennon.
Emerson said at the time—and repeated decades later—that she believed the Beatles and Lennon "could have stopped the war" had they performed for U.S. troops in Vietnam.
Coverage of Vietnam
Finally, in 1970 she convinced the paper to transfer her to Saigon. As she said in the obituary she wrote for herself, she wanted to return "because she had been in that country in 1956 and wanted to go back to write about the Vietnamese people and the immense unhappy changes in their lives, not a subject widely covered by the huge press corps who were preoccupied with covering the military story."
Among her first reports for The New York Times, Emerson exposed false "body counts" and "unearned commendations" to field-grade officers and the use of hard drugs by American soldiers. She also reported on the suffering of the Vietnamese people. At a 1981 conference on the Vietnam War, Emerson declared U.S. spokesman and host of the Five O'Clock Follies Saigon briefings Barry Zorthian "a determined and brilliant liar."
In her self-written obituary, which reporters at the Times discovered on the day she died, Emerson described the plaudits that came her way:
Her dispatches from Vietnam won a George Polk Award for excellence in foreign reporting, and, later, a Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications. Her nonfiction book on the war, Winners & Losers (Random House, 1977), won a National Book Award in 1978 but she described it as "too huge and somewhat messy". Its subject was the effects of the conflict on some Americans, or "an absence of the effect", as she once said.
One of the most quoted parts of the book was Emerson's condemnation of "killing at a distance":
Americans cannot perceive — even the most decent among us — the suffering caused by the United States air war in Indochina and how huge are the graveyards we have created there. To a reporter recently returned from Vietnam, it often seems that much of our fury and fear is reserved for busing, abortion, mugging, and liberation of some kind. ... As Anthony Lewis once wrote, our military technology is so advanced that we kill at a distance and insulate our consciences by the remoteness of the killing.
Winners and Losers
Published in 1976, Winners and Losers covers Emerson's time in America and Vietnam before, during, and after the Vietnam War. The book is based on interviews with American and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. The Chicago Tribune called it "sensitive, moral, compelling . . . a book of genuine greatness and largeness of spirit." Winners and Losers won the National Book Award for Contemporary Thought in 1978. An anniversary edition was published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2014.
Gaza, a Year in the Intifada
This 1991 book is about a year she spent in the occupied territories. "The book provoked hostility among friends, and others felt it was anti-Israel, but Ms. Emerson insisted this was not the reason for writing it," she explained in her obituary; "she hoped to provide a primer for those who felt the situation in the Middle East was too complicated or too controversial to understand." She won a 1991 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.
Loving Graham Greene
In 2000 Emerson published her only novel, Loving Graham Greene, described by William Boyd in The New York Times Book Review as "beguiling and memorable... a funny, moving and strangely profound novel." The novel sprang from Emerson's fascination with the British novelist Graham Greene whom she had interviewed in Antibes in March 1978 for the magazine Rolling Stone. It is set partly in Princeton, New Jersey, where she lived (and taught) for many years, and in Algiers, where she visited briefly in 1992 at the outset of the Algerian civil war which claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people. This fiction is the distillation of Emerson's experience as a journalist and an activist. This novel was the first book by Emerson to be translated into a foreign language and appeared in France in April 2007.
- George Polk Award for excellence in foreign reporting (1971)
- National Book Award for non-fiction (1978), for Winners and Losers (1976)
- Sullivan, Patricia (August 6, 2004). "Journalist Gloria Emerson Dies". The Washington Post.
"National Book Awards – 1978". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
There was a "Contemporary" or "Current" award category from 1972 to 1980.
- Whitney, Craig R. "Gloria Emerson, Chronicler of War's Damage, Dies at 75", The New York Times, 5 August 2004.
- "The World of John and Yoko: A BBC Television Documentary from 1969" Archived February 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Cadogan, Patrick (2008). The Revolutionary Artist: John Lennon's Radical Years. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4357-1863-0.
- Mansoor, Zeenat, "American Diplomat Barry Zorthian dies" Archived 2012-09-24 at the Wayback Machine., Yale Daily News, January 10, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War"
- Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2004, Gloria Emerson, 75; Vietnam War Correspondent, Author
- Gloria Emerson photographs, circa 1970s, University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston
- "Gloria Emerson, Chronicler of War's Damage, Dies at 75", Craig R. Whitney, New York Times, August 5, 2004
- "Journalist Gloria Emerson Dies", Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post, August 6, 2004
- Editor and Publisher
- "Gloria Emerson: Vietnam War reporter with an eye for illuminating detail", Nicholas J. Cull, Independent, August 17, 2004