Anzia Yezierska

Last updated

Anzia Yezierska
Yezierska CedarRapids 5Mar1921.jpg
Sketch of Anzia Yezierska 1921
Born(1880-10-29)29 October 1880
Mały Płock, Vistula Land, Russian Empire
Died20 November 1970(1970-11-20) (aged 90)
Ontario, California, United States
Occupation
  • Writer
  • novelist
  • essayist
NationalityAmerican
Genrefiction; non-fiction

Anzia Yezierska (October 29, 1880 November 20, 1970) was a Jewish-American novelist born in Mały Płock, Poland, which was then part of the Russian Empire. She emigrated as a child with her parents to the United States and lived in the immigrant neighborhood of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Contents

Personal life

Yezierska was born in the 1880s in Mały Płock to Bernard and Pearl Yezierski. Her family emigrated to America around 1893, following in the footsteps of her eldest brother, who had arrived in the States six years prior. [1] They took up housing in the Lower East Side, Manhattan. [2] Her family assumed the surname, Mayer, while Anzia took Harriet (or Hattie) as her first name. She later reclaimed her original name, Anzia Yezierska, in her late twenties. Her father was a scholar of Torah and sacred texts.

Anzia Yezierska's parents encouraged her brothers to pursue higher education but believed she and her sisters had to support the men.

In 1910 she fell in love with Arnold Levitas but instead married his friend Jacob Gordon, a New York attorney. After 6 months, the marriage was annulled. Shortly after, she married Arnold Levitas in a religious ceremony to avoid legal complications. Arnold was the father of her only child, Louise, born May 29, 1912.

Around 1914 Yezierska left Levitas and moved with her daughter to San Francisco. She worked as a social worker. Overwhelmed with the chores and responsibilities of raising her daughter, she gave up her maternal rights and transferred them to Levitas. In 1916, she and Levitas officially divorced.

She then moved back to New York City. Around 1917, she engaged in a romantic relationship with philosopher John Dewey, a professor at Columbia University. Both Dewey and Yezierska wrote about one another, alluding to the relationship. [3]

After she had become independent, her sister encouraged her to pursue her interest in writing. She devoted the remainder of her life to it.

Yezierska was the aunt of American film critic Cecelia Ager. Ager's daughter became known as journalist Shana Alexander.

Anzia Yezierska died November 21, 1970, of a stroke in a nursing home in Ontario, California.

Writing career

Yezierska wrote about the struggles of Jewish and later Puerto Rican immigrants in New York's Lower East Side. In her fifty-year writing career, she explored the cost of acculturation and assimilation among immigrants. Her stories provide insight into the meaning of liberation for immigrants—particularly Jewish immigrant women. Many of her works of fiction can be labeled semi-autobiographical. In her writing, she drew from her life growing up as an immigrant in New York's Lower East Side. Her works feature elements of realism with attention to detail; she often has characters express themselves in Yiddish-English dialect. Her sentimentalism and highly idealized characters have prompted some critics to classify her works as romantic.

Anzia Yezierska in 1922 Yezierska Lima News July3 1922.jpg
Anzia Yezierska in 1922

Yezierska turned to writing around 1912. Turmoil in her personal life prompted her to write stories focused on problems faced by wives. In the beginning, she had difficulty finding a publisher for her work. But her persistence paid off in December 1915 when her story, "The Free Vacation House" was published in The Forum. She attracted more critical attention about a year later when another tale, "Where Lovers Dream" appeared in Metropolitan. Her literary endeavors received more recognition when her rags-to-riches story, "The Fat of the Land," appeared in noted editor Edward J. O'Brien's collection, Best Short Stories of 1919. Yezierska's early fiction was eventually collected by publisher Houghton Mifflin and released as a book titled Hungry Hearts in 1920. [2] Another collection of stories, Children of Loneliness, followed two years later. These stories focus on the children of immigrants and their pursuit of the American Dream.

Some literary critics argue that Yezierska's strength as an author was best found in her novels. Her first novel, Salome of the Tenements (1923), was inspired by her friend Rose Pastor Stokes. Stokes gained fame as a young immigrant woman when she married a wealthy young man of a prominent Episcopalian New York family in 1904.

Her most studied work is Bread Givers (1925). It explores the life of a young Jewish-American immigrant woman struggling to live from day to day while searching to find her place in American society. Bread Givers remains her best known novel.

Arrogant Beggar chronicles the adventures of narrator Adele Lindner. She exposes the hypocrisy of the charitably run Hellman Home for Working Girls after fleeing from the poverty of the Lower East Side.

In 1929–1930 Yezierska received a Zona Gale fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, which gave her a financial stipend. She wrote several stories and finished a novel while serving as a fellow. She published All I Could Never Be (1932) after returning to New York City.

The end of the 1920s marked a decline of interest in Yezierska's work. During the Great Depression, she worked for the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. During this time, she wrote the novel, All I Could Never Be. Published in 1932, this work was inspired by her own struggles. As portrayed in the book, she identified as an immigrant and never felt truly American, believing native-born people had an easier time. It was the last novel Yezierska published before falling into obscurity.

Her fictionalized autobiography, Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950), was published when she was nearly 70 years old. [2] This revived interest in her work, as did the trend in the 1960s and 1970s to study literature by women. "The Open Cage" is one of Yezierska's bleakest stories, written during her later years of life. She began writing it in 1962 at the age of 81. It compares the life of an old woman to that of an ailing bird.

Although she was nearly blind, Yezierska continued writing. She had stories, articles, and book reviews published until her death in California in 1970.

Yezierska and Hollywood

The success of Anzia Yezierska's early short stories led to a brief, but significant, relationship between the author and Hollywood. Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights to Yezierska's collection Hungry Hearts. The silent film of the same title (1922) was shot on location at New York's Lower East Side with Helen Ferguson, E. Alyn Warren, and Bryant Washburn. In recent years, the film was restored through the efforts of the National Center for Jewish Film, the Samuel Goldwyn Company, and the British Film Institute; in 2006, a new score was composed to accompany it. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival showed the restored print in July 2010. Yezierska's 1923 novel Salome of the Tenements was adapted and produced as a silent film of the same title (1925).

Recognizing the popularity of Yezierska's stories, Goldwyn gave the author a $100,000 contract to write screenplays. [2] In California, her success led her to be called by publicists, "the sweatshop Cinderella." She was uncomfortable with being touted as an example of the American Dream. Frustrated by the shallowness of Hollywood and by her own alienation, Yezierska returned to New York in the mid-1920s. She continued publishing novels and stories about immigrant women struggling to establish their identities in America.

Works by Anzia Yezierska

Bibliography

Related Research Articles

Hester Street is a street in the Lower East Side of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It stretches from Essex Street to Centre Street, with a discontinuity between Chrystie Street and Forsyth Street for Sara Delano Roosevelt Park. There is also a discontinuity at Allen Street, which was created in 2009 with the rebuilding of the Allen Street Mall. At Centre Street, Hester Street shifts about 100 feet (30 m) to the north and is called Howard Street to its far western terminus at Mercer Street.

Adele Wiseman was a Canadian author.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni</span> American novelist

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yiddish literature</span> Genre of written material

Yiddish literature encompasses all those belles-lettres written in Yiddish, the language of Ashkenazic Jewry which is related to Middle High German. The history of Yiddish, with its roots in central Europe and locus for centuries in Eastern Europe, is evident in its literature.

<i>Salome of the Tenements</i> 1925 film by Sidney Olcott

Salome of the Tenements is a 1925 American silent drama film adapted to the screen by Sonya Levien from the Anzia Yezierska novel of the same name. Made by Jesse L. Lasky and Adolph Zukor's Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, a division of Paramount Pictures, it was directed by Sidney Olcott and starred Jetta Goudal and Godfrey Tearle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tillie Olsen</span>

Tillie Lerner Olsen was an American writer who was associated with the political turmoil of the 1930s and the first generation of American feminists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leila Aboulela</span> Sudanese writer

Leila Fuad Aboulela is a fiction writer, essayist, and playwright of Sudanese origin based in Aberdeen, Scotland. She grew up in Khartoum, Sudan, and moved to Scotland in 1990 where she began her literary career. Aboulela has published five novels and several short stories, which have been translated into fifteen languages. Her most popular novels, Minaret (2005) and The Translator (1999) both feature the stories of Muslim women in the UK and were long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award and Orange Prize. Aboulela’s works have been included in publications such as Harper's Magazine, Granta, The Washington Post and The Guardian. BBC Radio has adapted her work extensively and broadcast a number of her plays, including The Insider, The Mystic Life and the historical drama The Lion of Chechnya. The five-part radio serialization of her 1999 novel The Translator was short-listed for the Race In the Media Award (RIMA). Aboulela’s work is critically acclaimed for its depiction of Muslim migrants in the West the and the challenges they face. Her work is heavily influenced by her own experiences as an immigrant to the United Kingdom and the hardships she experienced during the transition. Her work centers around political issues and themes such as identity, multi-cultural relationships, the East-West divide, migration, and Islamic spirituality. Her prose has been celebrated for its "restrained lyricism, irony and clarity” by J.M Coetzee, Ben Okri and Ali Smit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madeleine Thien</span> Canadian short story writer and novelist

Madeleine Thien is a Canadian short story writer and novelist. The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Literature has considered her work as reflecting the increasingly trans-cultural nature of Canadian literature, exploring art, expression and politics inside Cambodia and China, as well as within diasporic East Asian communities. Thien's critically acclaimed novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, won the 2016 Governor General's Award for English-language fiction, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards for Fiction. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, and the 2017 Rathbones Folio Prize. Her books have been translated into more than 25 languages.

Gina Berriault, was an American novelist and short story writer.

Mary Dearborn is an American biographer and author. Dearborn has published biographies of Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Peggy Guggenheim and others.

<i>Bread Givers</i>

Bread Givers is a 1925 three-volume novel by Jewish-American author Anzia Yezierska; the story of a young girl growing up in an immigrant Jewish household in the Lower East Side of New York City. Her parents are from Poland in the Russian Empire.

Cecelia Ager was an American film critic and star reporter for Variety and the New York Times Magazine.

<i>Hungry Hearts</i> (1922 film) 1922 film by E. Mason Hopper

Hungry Hearts (1922) is an American film based on stories by Anzia Yezierska about Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side of New York City. The film was directed by E. Mason Hopper, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, and starred Helen Ferguson and E. Alyn Warren.

<i>Hungry Hearts</i> (short story collection)

Hungry Hearts is a collection of short stories by Jewish/American writer Anzia Yezierska first published in 1920. The short stories deal with the European Jewish immigrant experience from the perspective of fictional female Jews, each story depicting a different aspect of their trials and tribulations in poverty in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The stories were adapted into a film of the same name.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean Kwok</span> American poet

Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling Chinese American author of the novels Girl in Translation, Mambo in Chinatown, and Searching for Sylvie Lee, which was chosen as The Today Show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rose Gollup Cohen</span> American writer

Rose Gollup Cohen (1880–1925) was a writer. She grew up in a village in the Russian Empire, immigrated to America with her aunt Masha in 1892 to join her father, and lived on New York City's Lower East Side. She worked in a garment sweatshop, joined a union, and also worked as a domestic servant. She suffered from poor health, and was at one point visited by Lillian Wald, who sent her to uptown Presbyterian Hospital, where she met people who sponsored summer outings for immigrant children. She then worked summers at a Connecticut retreat. Wald also referred her to a cooperative shirtwaist shop directed by Leonora O'Reilly, and when O'Reilly began teaching at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in 1902, she recruited Cohen as her assistant.

Sonia Pilcer is an American author, playwright, and poet, best known for her semi-autobiographical novels Teen Angel and The Holocaust Kid. She is responsible for coining the term "2G" to refer to Second Generation Holocaust survivors in a 1990 essay of the same name for 7 Days magazine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Suzanne Wasserman</span> American film director, historian and writer

Suzanne Wasserman, was a Chicago-born historian, Professor, writer, and film director. Besides her exceptional tenure as Director of the Gotham Center for New York City history, she may be best known for her first film, completed in 2003, Thunder in Guyana, which she wrote, produced, and directed. The film documented the remarkable life of her mother's first cousin, Chicago-born Janet Rosenberg Jagan, who served as the President of Guyana, South America from December 19, 1997 to August 11, 1999.

<i>Salome of the Tenements</i> (novel)

Salome of the Tenements is a novel published in 1922 by Jewish-American writer Anzia Yezierska. The novel follows the story of a young Jewish immigrant living in New York who wishes to marry a wealthy man and escape the bounds of her lower-class upbringing. Yezierska drew inspiration for the novel from the lives of Rose Pastor Stokes and her husband J. G. Phelps Stokes, as well as her own relationship with John Dewey. The novel was published by Boni & Liveright, and it was adapted into a film of the same name in 1925.

References

Works

Biography

Others