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Hortense Calisher

(1911- )

CALISHER, HORTENSE (1911– ), U.S. writer. Calisher was born in New York to a family whose ancestry encompassed Jews from the American South as well as Germany. She had, she wrote in her memoir, Herself (1972), "no shtetl background." Her stories and memoirs, often drawing upon her own sense of displacement, vividly brought the Jewish South and its problems into fiction. Her insight in rendering the texture of American society derives, in part, from her own family's impoverishment in the Great Depression, her experiences as a social worker after graduating from Barnard College in 1932, and her sense of family history which echoed, as she put it, Civil War Richmond, 1850 Dresden, and 1888 New York. This background enriched her acceptance of American life as diverse and enriching. Equally important, some of her work critiqued Jews' attitudes towards themselves – drawing fire from parts of the Jewish reading public – as well as blacks. Her prose has been described as Jamesean: nuanced, complex, and sophisticated though her stylistic range is large. Her works include the memoirs Kissing Cousins (1988) and Tattoo for a Slave (2004), and novels, most notably those encompassing a generational Jewish odyssey, such as False Entry (1961), and her magisterial Sunday Jews (2002), which deals with American multiple identities and pasts. The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher appeared in 1975; The Novellas of Hortense Calisher in 1997.


K. Snodgrass, The Fiction of Hortense Calisher (1993).

[Lewis Fried (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.