Asian American Short Story Writers: An A-to-Z Guide

By Guiyou Huang | Go to book overview

WINNIFRED EATON (1875-1954)

Jean Lee Cole


BIOGRAPHY

Winnifred Eaton (née Lillie Winnifred) was born in Montreal, Canada, the eighth of fourteen children of an English father, Edward, and Chinese mother, Grace Trefusis. Although she received only a cursory formal education, she embarked on her writing career at a young age, publishing her first short story, according to her own report, in the Montreal Metropolitan Magazine in her teens. In the mid-1890s, she briefly worked as a reporter for the Jamaican newspaper, Gall's News Letter, and by the end of the decade she was living in Chicago, writing for major magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, and had published her first novel, Miss Nume of Japan (1899), using the pseudonym that she would use, off and on, throughout her career: Onoto Watanna.

The first decade of the twentieth century was Eaton's most prolific. During this time, she published eight of her sixteen known novels, the vast majority of her short stories, and numerous magazine articles on Japanese subjects. By the middle of the decade she had become something of a literary celebrity. She achieved her greatest popular success with her second novel, A Japanese Nightingale (1901), which went through multiple editions, was eventually translated into at least four languages, and was adapted for the Broadway stage (1903) and the screen (1918).

In New York, she met and married her first husband, Bertrand Babcock, and had four children. By mid-decade, the marriage had soured, and she divorced him in 1917. Eaton married her second husband, Frank Reeve, less than two months after her divorce from Babcock was finalized, and with him she moved to a farm outside of Calgary, Alberta. Although she embraced her new role as the farmer's (and later, rancher's) wife, Eaton continued writing,

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