I signed up to write an introduction to Lafcadio Hearn's collection of ghost stories, to be published by Princeton University Press next year. Hearn lived in New Orleans for a few years in the late 19th century and was a beloved local. His Louisiana novel, "Chita" is still in print. I used his wonderful travelogue "Two Years in the West Indies" when I visited Martinique. The city of St. Pierre, featured in the book, was no more, blown up by a volcano, but his other landmarks and vivid people lived on. I thought I knew plenty about Lafcadio Hearn when I took on the job. As it turns out, I knew little. There are over a hundred collections of books by Lafcadio Hearn: essays, stories, novels, travelogues, philosophical dialogues with Shinto and Zen monks, and, the strangest thing of all, there is a whole other Lafcadio Hearn, named Koizumi Yakumo, who is revered in Japan. There have been movies, operas, Noh plays, and hundreds of illustrated editions of his Japanese writings. He collected folk stories, interviewed monks, taught English literature in Tokyo, took Japanese citizenship and hated the West and the Meiji era that corrupted, as he saw it, the Japan that knew no shadows in painting before it opened to the West. He had four children in Japan, two of whom wrote books about their father. In the U.S. there are dozens of memoirs and correspondence published after his death. He died young, at the age of 54. At the end of the nineteenth century, Lafcadio Hearn was one of America's best known writers, one of a stellar company that included Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Twain, Poe and Stevenson have entered the literary canon and are still read for duty and pleasure. Lafcadio Hearn has been forgotten, with the remarkable exceptions of Louisiana and Japan. Yet, Hearn’s place in American literature is significant for many reasons, not least of which is how the twentieth century came to view the nineteenth. This view, both academic and popular, reflects the triumph of a certain futuristic modernism over the mysteries of religion, folklore, and what was once called "folk wisdom." Lafcadio Hearn was a Greek-born, Irish-raised, New World immigrant who metamorphosed from a celebrated fin-de-siècle American writer into the beloved Japanese cultural icon Koizumi Yakumo in less than a decade, in roughly the same time that Japan changed from a millennia-old feudal society into a great industrial power. In other words, in the blink of an eye, or, as in one of his stories, the time it takes to burn an owl's feathers so that the nocturnal beautiful-girl-shape of the true creature might emerge. Hearn changed from one person into another, from a Greek islander into a British student, from a penniless London street ragamuffinin into a respected American newspaper writer, from a journalist into a novelist and, most astonishingly, from a stateless Western man into a loyal Japanese citizen. Yet, this life, as recorded both by himself and others, grows more mysterious the more one reads about it. It is like the Japanese story of the Buddhist monk Kwashin Koji, in “Impressions of Japan.” This monk who owned a painting so detailed it flowed with life. A samurai chieftain saw it and wanted to buy it, but the monk wouldn't sell it. So, the chieftain had him followed and murdered. But when the painting was brought to the chieftan and unrolled, there was was nothing on it; it was blank. A monk told Hearn this story to illustrate an aspect of the Buddhist doctrine of karma, but he might as well been speaking to Hearn about his own personae: the more “literary” Hearn becomes, via his prodigious output and the memories of his intimates, the more mysterious he becomes, until he vanishes like the painting. Lafcadio Hearn was born in 1850 not far from Ithaca, on the island of Lefkada in Greece, from the union of Charles Bush Hearn, an Irish surgeon in the British army, and Rosa Kassimatis, a beautiful woman born in Cythera, Aphrodite's island, about which Baudelaire wrote (in Richard Howard's memorable translation): "On Aphrodite's island all I found/ was a a token gallows wherein my image hung..." Hearn saw in Cythera the fatal beauty that would haunt his entire life. The island of Lefkada, said by Ovid in his “Ode to Love” to be the place where Sappho jumped to her death in the sea because of unrequited love, was Lafcadio's paradise, the womb-island from which he was expelled when his father returned and took mother and child to Dublin. While his father was abroad on another military assignment in the West Indies, Lafcadio's mother Rosa fled Dublin with a Greek man, back to her "island of feasting hearts and secret joys," leaving Lafcadio in the custody of a pious Catholic aunt. Then a schoolyard accident in one of the British schools he resentfully attended left him blind in one eye. His father remarried, and his aunt's family became bankrupt, two unrelated yet near-simultaneous disasters. A seventeen-year-old Lafcadio wandered penniless in London among vagabonds, thieves, and prostitutes. In the spring of 1869, a relation of his father's, worried about the family's reputation, handed him a one-way boat ticket to Cincinnati, Ohio, where another relation of the Hearns lived. In Cincinnati his relation handed him $5 and told him to get lost. A twenty-year-old Lafcadio found himself, once again, a penniless tramp. So far, with the exception of a few school exercises and some ghoulish poetry inspired by his fear of ghosts, Lafcadio Hearn had written nothing. In Cincinnati, he lived in the underworld, until the printer Henry Watkin allowed the young tramp to sleep on piles of old newspapers in his shop. Watkin, a utopian anarchist, encouraged him to read radical and fantastic literature. It was the age of socialism, anarchism, imperialism, untaxed wealth, unredeemable poverty, spiritism, snake-oil, newspapers, electricity, photography, telegraphy, telepathy, railroads, high art, and kitsch. A bounty of exotic objects and customs flowed in from the cultures of vanquished Native American tribes and recently freed African slaves. The astonished masses of immigrant Europeans, who were mostly peasants and religiously persecuted marginals, brought with them rich stories of folklore, customs, and beliefs. Hearn, like many new Americans, felt rightly that he was living in a time of wonder and possibility. His education took a vast leap: he underwent a kind of osmosis as if he had absorbed the spirit of nineteenth-century America from the newspapers he slept on.Clumsily, with Henry Watkin's encouragement, he started to write. And so the moral of this story is: you need to have a miserable childhood to have an interesting life, and fuck you, Trump, with your immigrant phobias. Let's all become Japanese.