Laura Z. Hobson
Laura Z. Hobson was born in New York City. Her father worked as the editor of the Forverts, and her mother wrote for Der Yidisher Tog. Hobson studied at Cornell and briefly married in 1930, co-writing two Westerns with her husband before divorcing in 1935. She then adopted one child and gave birth to a second, raising both as a single mother. Her best-known book, Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), about antisemitism in America, was swiftly turned into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck. Many of her novels were semi-autobiographical, including The Tenth Month (1970) about an unmarried woman giving birth, and Consenting Adult (1975), about a mother’s growing understanding of her son’s homosexuality. At age eighty-three, she was still writing, publishing Laura Z: A Life, the first volume of her autobiography.
Overview and Early Life
Laura Z. Hobson was passionate about many things: people, ideas, word puzzles, politics, her family, her daily bicycle rides through Central Park that she began at age sixty-seven, and, most of all, her writing. The author of nine novels, two children’s books, numerous short stories, and articles, she also wrote promotions for Time and Life magazines and edited the Double Crostics puzzles in the Saturday Review for twenty-seven years. Before she became a full-time novelist with the 1947 publication of Gentleman’s Agreement, she had been a successful writer of advertising copy.
When she was eighty-three years old, she published Laura Z.: A Life, the first volume of her autobiography. She explained her name and the book’s title in this way: “The Z is for Zametkin, my maiden name, and I have clung to it through all my years because it held my identity intact before that Anglo-Saxon married name of Hobson.”
She and her twin sister, Alice, were born on June 19, 1900, in New York City. The twins had an older brother, Fred, and an older half-brother, Joel. Their parents, Michael and Adella (Khean) Zametkin, were refugees from czarist Russia. Michael was a mathematician who had been imprisoned and tortured in Russia for his socialist beliefs. In the United States, he became a labor organizer and the editor of the Forverts, then the most powerful Yiddish paper in the country. Adella wrote for Der Yidisher Tog, attended dental school, lectured on American life, and taught English to women newly arrived from Eastern Europe.
Writing Career and Personal Life
Laura Zametkin studied at Cornell University. In 1930, she married publishing executive Thayer Hobson, with whom she coauthored two westerns. The couple divorced in 1935.
In 1937, Hobson adopted a son, Michael Z. Hobson. This was an unusual action for an unmarried woman at that time. In 1941, still single, she gave birth to Christopher Z. Hobson. Because she did not want Michael to feel stigmatized as her only adopted child, she kept her pregnancy secret, giving birth under an assumed name. She then adopted Christopher using her own name. She did not tell her children the truth about Christopher’s birth until they were grown.
Hobson said that her novels were partly autobiographical. First Papers (1964) was based upon her childhood. The Tenth Month (1970) tells of an unmarried woman giving birth. Consenting Adult (1975), about a mother’s growing understanding of her son’s homosexuality, was based upon Hobson’s own experiences with Christopher. Untold Millions (1982) portrays an advertising copywriter who supports a man she loves, just as Hobson had done.
Three of Hobson’s novels refer to Jews and Jewishness. The Trespassers (1943) describes the flight of refugees from Nazism. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) depicts “polite” antisemitism, yet it also decries nationalism, including that of Jews. The Jewish Book Council named Gentleman’s Agreement the best Jewish novel of 1947, but Hobson refused the award, saying that her book was an American novel about issues important to Jews. (Later, she reconsidered, describing her refusal as “doctrinaire.”) In Over and Above (1979), she reexamined attitudes toward Jewishness and Israel.
Although Hobson did not call herself a feminist, her life provides an important, positive model for contemporary women. From the 1930s onward, she supported herself and her sons through her writing. She defied convention by becoming an unmarried mother long before it was socially acceptable. Her works demonstrate that she was constantly thinking about and assessing, but never retreating from, the world.
Hobson died on February 28, 1986, of cancer.
Selected Works by Laura Z. Hobson
The Celebrity (1951).
Consenting Adult (1975).
First Papers (1964).
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).
Laura Z.: A Life (1983).
Laura Z.: A Life: Years of Fulfillment (1986).
The Other Father (1950).
Over and Above (1979).
The Tenth Month (1970).
The Trespassers (1943).
Untold Millions (1982).
Allen, Suzanne. “Laura Keane Zametkin Hobson.” American Women
Writers, edited by Lina Mainiero (1980).
Giffuni, Cathe. “Laura Z. Hobson: A Bibliography.” Bulletin of Bibliography 45,
no. 4 (December 1988): 261–270.
Gitenstein, R. Barbara. “Laura Z. Hobson.” in Dictionary of Literary
Biography. Vol. 28 (1984): 107–110.
Gordan, Rachel. “Laura Z. Hobson and the Making of Gentleman’s Agreement.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 34, 2 (2015): 231-256.
“Laura Z. Hobson, Author, Dies at 85.” NYTimes, March 2, 1986, sec. 1, p. 40.
Leon, Masha. “An Interview: Laura Z(ametkin) Hobson.” Forward, September 14,
1984, p. 5+, and September 21, 1984, p. 9+.
Mazow, Julia Wolf. “Remembering Laura Z. Hobson.” Lilith 15 (1986): 6–7.
Steinberg, Sybil S. “PW Interviews: Laura Z. Hobson.” Publishers
Weekly (September 2, 1983): 82–83.