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October 19: Fannie Hurst

Lawrence Bush
October 18, 2016
Bestselling novelist and short story writer Fannie Hurst — known to later generations primarily through film adaptations of her fiction (notably Imitation of Life and Young at Heart), was born in Hamilton, Ohio on this date in 1885. Hurst wrote on social themes of sexism and women’s rights, racism and racial justice, and economic opportunity, and many of her characters were working-class and/or immigrant. Her writing was culturally audacious and hugely popular in the interwar years and into the 1950s, and was translated into many languages. Hurst published more than three hundred short stories during her career, as well as nineteen novels, four nonfiction books, and five plays. She used her wealth and celebrity to support New Deal programs (she was close to Eleanor Roosevelt and a frequent White House visitor) and to promote such organizations as the Lucy Stone League, which promoted women’s use of their “maiden” names, the Urban League, and the Mattachine Society, for which she delivered a keynote convention address in 1958. “When she dealt with Jewish subjects directly,” writes Wendy Graham at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “. . . she concentrated on the trials of the upwardly mobile saddled with the baggage of traditional values. . . . It took the rise of Hitler to force her to acknowledge anti-Semitism, and the creation of Israel to forge a sense of Jewishness.” “A woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far.” --Fannie Hurst

​​​​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.