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Diary of a Mad Housewife

Lawrence Bush
August 6, 2017

Sue Kaufman, author of The Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967) and six other works of fiction before committing suicide after a long depression at age 50, was born on Long Island on this date in 1926. She was a graduate of Vassar, achieved early success as a freelance writer, and published her first novel, The Happy Summer Days, in 1959. Kaufman had a son with her physician husband, but by most accounts the marriage was troubled, and so was her mental health; according to novelist Judith Krant’s autobiography, Sex and Shopping, Kaufman “jumped from the eighteenth-floor balcony of her apartment . . . she was due to be readmitted to a psychiatric hospital the next day.” Kaufman’s 1967 novel was made into a much-praised film and became “a classic of women’s fiction that gave a wry voice to the nascent feminist stirrings of the 1960s and helped incite a revolution in the consciousness of a generation,” according to the Seal Press, which reissued the novel in 2005. Yet Kaufman “railed against ‘having my work held up against a yardstick, measuring whether I am or am not writing about women’s issues,’ ” writes Anna Kneavel at the Jewish Women’s Archive. “Her resentment is well founded, for Sue Kaufman wrote about people’s issues, most specifically modern urbanites who struggled with the stresses of city life which, like ancient water torture, relentlessly wore them down.” A $2500 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction is given each year by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

“In violent and chaotic times such as these, our only chance for survival lies in creating our own little islands of sanity and order, in making little havens of our homes.” --Sue Kaufman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.