Born: August 15, 1885
Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August 15, 1887. As a child, she and her family moved frequently throughout the Midwest. During her high school years, her interest in writing took her to the school newspaper, as a reporter and then as an editor. After she graduated from Ryan High in Appleton, Wisconsin, she took a reporting job with the local newspaper, The Appleton Daily Crescent. She continued her reporting career with another newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal, but left to return to her family's Wisconsin home for some rest and re-focusing. Here she found the time and sense of direction she needed to hone her skills as a writer. She turned to writing fiction, and in 1910 her first short story, The Homely Heroine, set in Appleton, was published by Everybody's Magazine. She followed this with her novel Dawn O'Hara, which drew upon her experiences as a Milwaukee newspaper reporter.Ferber's success as a writer became assured as she gained popularity with a series of short stories based on her character Emma McChesney. These stories were assembled into collections that were published from 1913 to 1915 as Roast Beef Medium, Personality Plus, and Emma McChesney and Company. She dropped her McChesney character in 1915, but continued to publish short stories as well as much longer novels. Her first novel that won critical acclaim was The Girls, in 1921, and then in 1924 she published So Big, which earned her a Pulitzer prize for her portrayal of a gambler's daughter trying to maintain her diginity while raising a child on a Midwestern truck farm. In 1926 she published a novel about a young woman's experiences on a floating theater on the Mississppi River. Titled Show Boat, the novel was adapted into a popular musical and became a hit on Broadway, and then later on the screen as well. Her 1930 Cimarron, and her 1952 Giant were both made into movies. In 1958 she released another novel that would become well-known as Ice Palace. As a prolific writer, her audience came to know Edna Ferber as an accomplished portrayer of colorful slices of American life. Ferber also collaborated with playwright George S. Kaufman to produce dramatic works, including the 1928 work The Royal Family, the 1936 pieces Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door. In 1939 she published her first autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure. Then in 1963 she published a second autobiography, A Kind of Magic. During the 1920's and 1930's, Edna Ferber was considered one of the greatest American woman novelists, and she was certainly one of the most widely-read at the time. Her stories captured readers and critics with their insight into American life, and with her characters that captured the spirit of rugged American individualism. Ferber lived until the age of 82, when she passed away at her Park Avenue, New York, home.
We also recommend Ferber's Pulitzer prize-winning So Big, for her timeless portrayal of Selina Peake DeJong and early 20th century midwestern agricultural life, as well as Giant, her powerful story of cattle barons, oil tycoons, power, and love. This is the novel that was adapted for the film starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson. A classic. To sample Edna Ferber's dramatic collaborations with George S. Kaufman, you should take a look at Three Comedies: The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, Stage Door. See why Edna Ferber was such a popular American writer for decades.
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