Rediscover: Emma Smith

British author Emma Smith, whose 1940s literary fame dwindled to obscurity until she was rediscovered decades later, died earlier this week at age 94. Born and raised in Cornwall, England, she joined the War Office at age 16 and volunteered as a boatwoman on the Grand Union Canal during World War II. Smith turned that experience into her debut novel, Maidens' Trip (1948), which won the 1949 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. She worked on Maiden's Trip during a far more ambitious voyage: nine months spent in India as part of a documentary film team, acting as runner/secretary for then screenwriter and future poet Laurie Lee (Smith later encouraged him to write his bestselling coming-of-age tale, Cider with Rosie). Smith's India adventures became her second novel, The Far Cry, published to critical acclaim in 1949. She married, had two children, but became an early widow, and her writing career was superseded by family life.

Decades later, British novelist Susan Hill (The Woman in Black) found a copy of The Far Cry in a rummage sale. Thanks to Hill's positive piece in the Daily Telegraph, The Far Cry was reprinted by Persephone Books in 2002. Smith's writing career revived with her 2008 memoir, The Great Western Beach, and a sequel to Maiden's Trip (reprinted in 2009), As Green As Grass (2013). Though Persephone's reprint of The Far Cry is not available in the U.S., Smith's more recent work, including Maiden's Trip, is available from Bloomsbury. --Tobias Mutter

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