You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Fannie Hurst

One of the highest-paid American writers of her time, Fannie Hurst explored the challenges facing Jews and other minorities. Hurst published her first short story, “Ain’t Life Wonderful,” in 1908 while studying at Washington University. After graduating in 1909 she moved to New York and supported herself with odd jobs from waitressing to acting until “Power and Horse Power” launched her writing career in 1912. She regularly wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, Century, and Cosmopolitan, and her novels were both popular in their own right and hot commodities for Hollywood adaptations—MGM reportedly paid her a million dollars for Great Laughter. While fans preferred her 1931 tearjerker Back Street, Hurst’s own favorite was Lummox, her 1923 novel about class and assimilation praised by both Lenin and Trotsky. Despite being a supporter of the Harlem Renaissance and a friend and employer of Zora Neale Hurston, Hurst was accused of perpetuating stereotypes: Her 1933 Imitation of Life featured both a subservient mammy and a doomed mixed race character. However, Hurst was also active in New Deal initiatives to create better opportunities for all as chair of the National Housing Commission from 1936‐1937 and the Committee on Workman’s Compensation in 1940, among others.

Hurst, Fannie - still image [media]
Full image

Growing up in a family with conflicting attitudes towards Judaism, Fannie Hurst initially declared that her heart "belongs to the people." It took the rise of Hitler to force her to acknowledge antisemitism, and the creation of Israel to forge her sense of Jewishness. This photo was taken on March 16, 1938.

Photographer: Carl Van Vechten; Institution: U.S. Library of Congress

Date of Birth
October 18, 1889
Place of Birth
Hamilton, Ohio
Date of Death
February 23, 1968

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Fannie Hurst." (Viewed on December 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/people/hurst-fannie>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs