|Born||December 20, 1911|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 13, 2009 (aged 97)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Pen name||Jack 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.
Born in New York City, and a graduate of Hunter College High School (1928) 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".
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.
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."
She was a finalist for the National Book Award three times, won O. Henry Awards (for "The Night Club in the Woods" and other works) and the 1986 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (for The Bobby Soxer), and was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1952 and 1955. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.
Calisher died on January 13, 2009, aged 97, in Manhattan. 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.