“Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst Is Reviewed”
June 7, 1999, 246.23
All but forgotten now, Fannie Hurst had one of the most celebrated American literary careers from the 1920s to the 1950s. Born in 1885 to a middle-class Jewish family in St. Louis, Hurst began writing in college; by 1928 (after six volumes of stories and five bestselling novels), she was earning an extraordinary $4000 per story. Her fiction, which features working women, often from immigrant backgrounds, struck a chord with a mostly female readership; 32 films were made from her works, including repeated remakes of the enormously popular Imitation of Life and Back Street. A popular columnist, lecturer, journalist and spokesperson for liberal causes, Hurst made headlines with her “modern” marriage, in which she and her musician husband lived apart. After WWII, Hurst’s reputation faded; her 1968 obit was frontpage New York Times news, but she was already publishing history. Kroeger succinctly lays out the basics of Hurst’s career, including her friendship with Zora Neale Hurston, her problematic race politics and complex feelings about her Jewish identity, her personal vanity about her age and her feminist convictions. Too often, though, the contradictions vital to understanding Hurst’s life and career are noted but not explored. Kroeger’s writing is often hackneyed (“Hurst’s success kept coming, like popcorn kernels exploding in hot oil”), but also is, like her subject’s own (often melodramatic) prose, compulsively readable. Hurst is an important figure in U.S. popular culture and this biography, despite its flaws, goes a long way toward explaining why. (Aug.)
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THE SUFFRAGENTS: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote, launches Sept. 1. National History Day contestants, this page is for you.