Hortense Calisher
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Hortense Calisher
Hortense Calisher
Born(1911-12-20)December 20, 1911
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 13, 2009(2009-01-13) (aged 97)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Pen nameJack Fenno

Hortense Calisher (December 20, 1911 - January 13, 2009) was an American writer of fiction and the second female president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Personal life

Born in New York City, and a graduate of Hunter College High School (1928)[1] and Barnard College (1932), Calisher was the daughter of a young German Jewish immigrant mother and a somewhat older Jewish father from Virginia whose family she described as "volcanic to meditative to fruitfully dull and bound to produce someone interested in character, society, and time".[2]

In 1972, she was a part of the Ms. magazine campaign: "We Have Had Abortions." The campaign called for an end to "archaic laws" limiting reproductive freedom, they encouraged women to share their stories and take action.[3]

Writing style

Calisher involved her closely investigated, penetrating characters in complicated plotlines that unfold with shocks and surprises in allusive, nuanced language with a distinctively elegiac voice, sometimes compared with Eudora Welty, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Henry James. Critics generally considered Calisher a type of neo-realist and often both condemned and praised her for her extensive explorations of characters and their social worlds. Her writing was at odds with the prevailing minimalism typical of fiction writing in the 1970s and 1980s that employed a spartan, nonromantic style without undue expressionism.[]

The New York Times opined that her "unpredictable turns of phrase, intellectually challenging fictional situations and complex plots captivated and puzzled readers for a half-century. Failure and isolation were themes that ran through her 23 novels and short-story collections: failure of love, marriage, communication, identity. She explored the isolation within families that cannot be avoided yet cannot be faced, isolation imposed by wounds inflicted even in the happiest of households, wounds that shape events for generations. But her peers seemed most intrigued by her distinctive way of telling a story, her filigreed sentences and bold stylistic excursions... Throughout her career as a novelist, opinion tended to split evenly among critics who found her prose style and approach to narrative better suited to short stories [and those who] were mesmerized by her idiosyncratic language and imaginative daring."[]

Honors and awards

Calisher became the second female president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987.[4] From 1986 to 1987 she was president of PEN America,[5] the writers' association.

She was a finalist for the National Book Award three times, won O. Henry Awards[6][7] (for "The Night Club in the Woods" and other works) and the 1986 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (for The Bobby Soxer)[8], and was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1952 and 1955.[9] She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.[10]


Calisher died on January 13, 2009, aged 97, in Manhattan.[11] She was survived by her husband, Curtis Harnack, and her son, Peter Heffelfinger, from her first marriage to Heaton Bennet Heffelfinger. Calisher was predeceased by her daughter, Bennet Heffelfinger.



  • In the Absence of Angels (short stories 1951)
  • False Entry (novel 1961)
  • Tale for the Mirror (novella and short stories 1962)
  • Textures of Life (novel 1963)
  • Extreme Magic (novella and short stories 1964)
  • Journal from Ellipsia (novel 1965)
  • The Railway Police and The Last Trolley Ride (novellas 1966)
  • The New Yorkers (novel 1969)
  • Queenie (novel 1971)
  • Standard Dreaming (novel 1972)
  • Eagle Eye (novel 1973)
  • The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher (1975, revised 1984)
  • On Keeping Women (novel 1977)
  • Mysteries of Motion (novel 1983)
  • Saratoga, Hot (novella and short stories 1985)
  • The Bobby-Soxer (novel 1986)
  • Age (novel 1987)
  • The Small Bang (novel under the pseudonym of Jack Fenno 1992)
  • In the Palace of the Movie King (novel 1993)
  • In the Slammer with Carol Smith (novel 1997)
  • The Novellas of Hortense Calisher (1997)
  • Sunday Jews (novel 2003)



  1. ^ Johnston, Laurie. "Competition Intense Among Intellectually Gifted 6th Graders for Openings at Hunter College High School; Prominent Alumni Program for Seniors", The New York Times, March 21, 1977; accessed May 11, 2010.
  2. ^ Calisher, Hortense. Tattoo for a Slave. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004.
  3. ^ ""We have had Abortions"" (PDF). 1972.
  4. ^ Noble, Holcomb B. January 15, 2009. "Hortense Calisher, Author, Dies at 97", The New York Times [Barbara Tuchman was first in 1979]
  5. ^ Noble, Holcomb B. January 15, 2009. "Hortense Calisher, Author, Dies at 97", The New York Times
  6. ^ "Hortense Calisher | Jewish Women's Archive". Jwa.org. Retrieved .
  7. ^ "Hortense Calisher". National Book Foundation. Retrieved .
  8. ^ "Kafka Prize Recipients : Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender & Women's Studies : University of Rochester". www.sas.rochester.edu. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-07-21. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter C" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2014.
  11. ^ Noble, Holcomb B. January 15, 2009. "Hortense Calisher, Author, Dies at 97", The New York Times; accessed January 1, 2017.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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