Tuesday, March 08, 2016

DJ Karen Blixen

During the early part of the 20th century, the interior of Kenya was settled by British and European farmers, who became wealthy farming coffee and tea. This was a problem for the one million Kikuyu people who already lived there. The white settlers banned the growing of coffee, and introduced taxes on their new indentured laborers. Despite that history, there is actually a Karen Blixen museum in Kenya. (There was also that Meryl Streep movie.)

Karen Christenze Blixen (Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke) was also known as Isak Dinesen, Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andreze. On the air at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation she was just the Baroness. In 1958 she visited the United States on a 3 month tour, and was guest of honor at the annual festival in The National Institute of Arts and Letters. She lectured at the Cosmopolitan Club, the YHMA Poetry center, met Marilyn Monroe, and sat still for Richard Avedon to take her picture. She also (probably) made radio broadcasts, where she would read her stories to a world of radio listeners. She was 73 years old and on amphetamines. What could possibly go wrong?

It's moot, Blixen had already been story telling on the radio for over a decade.  She was on the air in Sweden as early as 1938, and in Denmark as early as 1945. That year she hosted a centennial for her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, who was a politician, and published author. He was best remembered for his work Hunting Letters. More here. He, like his daughter were Colonialists borne of that era. (They also both had syphilis.) After WWII had ravaged Danish radio, Blixen resumed broadcasting to Denmark in 1947 via the BBC.

Blixen was born in 1885 and published her first story in 1907 at the age of 22. Her first book Seven Gothic Tales, was published in 1934. It was followed by Out of Africa in 1937. Both of these contain segments and narratives that were broadcast in Denmark prior to the book's publication. Later works like Barua a Soldani were comprised of earlier works used in or intended for radio broadcasts.

In the 1950s Blixen's health deteriorated, and writing became impossible. She made an appeal on radio in Denmark again in 1958 to raise money to establish a foundation to care for her farm in Kenya after her death.  They donated $85,000 dollars. She did live long enough to see the rise of the Mau Mau, and subsequently the first direct elections in Kenyans in 1957. But not long enough to see CBC radio produce a 90-minute documentary about her "A Profile of Karen Blixen."