on July 28, 2005
Recently, my husband and I (along with our little dog) took an 8 week boat journey on the Ohio River. When we got to Big Bone Lick in Kentucky, we heard about a fascinating couple named Harlan and Anna Hubbard who had navigated the Ohio in a Shantyboat and then homesteaded along its shores. Two of the people we spoke to actually had met the Hubbards and spoke of them with great reverence. So it's no small surprise that as soon as I got to a Lewisville, KY and a big bookstore, I looked for works by and about the Hubbards. That is when I discovered Mia Cunningham's book. I bought it and read it as we navigated the same waters Anna had, along with her husband, Harlan. From the start of my river journey, I was interested in women's experiences, finding that so much river lore is from an entirely male perspective. The river world, I found, is largely a man's world; women's hopes, dreams, and heroic journeys are largely forgotten or spun into romantic yarns. So I was happy to find a book that examines river life and homesteading from a woman's, Mia Cunningham's, viewpoint. Cunningham's book breaks apart the Hubbard mystique. Harlan Hubbard is a great source of pride for people living near the Hubbards' old homestead, and rightly so. Harlan and Anna LIVED what we have come to understand as the Thoreau-like existence of simplicity and self-sufficiency. Yet sometimes people's lives get spun into myth and these people are projected as larger-than-life with no character faults. Cunningham's book gently tears at the seams of the Hubbard mystique. Drawing on her memories of the Hubbards and letters she received from Anna (unfortunately, most of Cunningham's own letters to Anna were destroyed by Harlan after Anna's death) Cunningham shows Anna as a woman of intelligence, inner beauty, and strength of character. However, the author also reveals that Anna's life was less than idyllic, exploring Anna's childhood loneliness, her poignant attempts to find love, the jarring effects of her hysterectomy, her altercations with her husband, and her struggle to maintain a balance between solitude and fame as the wife of the artist, Harlan Hubbard. Harlan Hubbard acknowledged that his goals of traveling the river and homesteading would not have been realized if not for Anna--Cunningham's book reveals why this is so, and the extent to which Anna sacrificed for Harlan's sake. ANNA HUBBARD: OUT OF THE SHADOWS is also an intimate exploration of the author's coming-to-terms with her own guilt at having lost contact with Anna Hubbard. This book is at once a tribute, a myth-breaker, and an intimate exploration of the pain we experience when we grow up and away from those we love--and those who love us. This book is highly recommended for those interested in Ohio River history, homesteading, women's studies, and memoir.
on December 10, 2013
This is one of the best biographies I have read. Even though Mia Cunningham was a young friend of Anna, she maintains a perspective that informs a reader about the personalities of Anna and Harlan, as well as adding the insights she is able to draw from the letters she and Anna wrote to each other through many years.
One must have read Harlan Hubbard's stories of their journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in "Shantyboat" before Cunningham's biography is read. Harlan has written with great skill of their travels down the rivers, but one comes away wanting to know why Anna would leave her previous way of living to marry Harlan and be happy with him for the rest of her life. Harlan gives no recognizable reasons in his writing.