Birth of Edna Ferber
Birth of Edna Ferber
Author Edna Ferber was born on August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The daughter of a storekeeper, Ferber’s family moved to Chicago, Illinois, and Ottumwa, Iowa, before settling in Appleton, Wisconsin, when she was 12. She would go on to graduate from high school there and briefly attend Lawrence University.
In school, Ferber had acted in several school plays and had dreams of becoming a professional actor. However, when her father fell ill Ferber had to set those dreams aside and find a job to help support the family. At age 17, she got a job working as a reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent. She worked there for a year, during which time she interviewed Harry Houdini for an article. Ferber then got a job with the larger Milwaukee Journal. She would work there for four years, but overworked herself and had to leave the job due to exhaustion. During her recovery time, Ferber wrote the short story, “The Homely Heroine,” which was published in Everybody’s Magazine. The success of that story led Ferber to write her first novel, Dawn O’Hara, and the first installment in a series of stories about traveling saleswoman Emma McChesney. Ferber’s stories proved quite popular and earned her national attention. Spurred on by her success, Ferber moved to New York in 1912 to become a full-time writer.
In the coming years, Ferber proved herself to be one of the most influential female writers of her time. She published several novels and short stories and was a member of the literary group The Algonquin Round Table. Much of Ferber’s writing was based on her family history and Midwestern roots. Her stories revolve around average Americans, particularly strong women. They also showed her pride in America and contempt for the bigotry her family had endured when she was younger (her parents were both Jewish).
Ferber published one of her most successful works in 1924 – the novel So Big. It sold more than 300,000 copies and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It was also adapted into a silent film the same year it was released, as well as a talkie starring Barbary Stanwyck, George Brent, and Bette Davis in 1932.
Then in 1926, Ferber published her most famous work, Show Boat. That novel was adapted into a musical in 1927. The play broke from musical theatre tradition because it was based on a serious literary work. It was one of the first musicals to consider the difficult themes of racism and poverty.
Several other Ferber works were also adapted for stage and screen, including Cimarron (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), Giant, Saratoga Trunk, and Ice Palace. Ferber also began writing plays with George S. Kaufman, including Dinner at Eight and Stage Door.
Ferber was once called “the greatest American woman novelist of her day.” She died on April 16, 1968, in New York City. In 2013, she was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. An elementary school in her hometown was also named in her honor.
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