The Gellhorn Spirit

Martha Gellhorn was born on this day in 1908. The annual Gellhorn Prize is awarded to an investigative journalist whose work is in the Gellhorn spirit — tells “an unpalatable truth that exposes establishment propaganda,” as the GP website puts it. In a 1939 letter to her friend, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gellhorn gives this “longwinded and confused statement of faith”:

I hate what happens in these times, but ignoring it won’t change it. And someday if I go on trying to know and understand, I may at last get it all in some sort of shape or order…and then maybe I could write something that would make just a few other people think too. If democracy is good, it must depend on the constant concern of the citizens. God knows I don’t recommend concern as it would surely be more comfortable to be a cabbage…. Myself, alone, I have a wonderful and privileged life and am deeply aware every minute of my benefits and good luck. But the only way I can pay back for what fate and society have handed me is to try, in minor totally useless ways, to make an angry sound against injustice….

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at