Hortense Calisher debuts in the New Yorker

July 10, 1948

The July 10, 1948, edition of the New Yorker magazine included as its fiction selection Hortense Calisher's short story "The Middle Drawer." It was Calisher's first published work. The daughter of a Southern Jewish perfume-maker and a German immigrant, Calisher was born on December 20, 1911, in New York City, and educated at Barnard College where she studied English and philosophy.

After working briefly for the New York Department of Public Welfare, Calisher married, moved to the suburbs, and occupied herself mainly with raising two sons. She later said that she had composed "The Middle Drawer" while walking her son to school. Like much of her later work, this O. Henry Award-winning story drew upon themes of Calisher's own life. Most of Calisher's fiction features Jewish characters, but their ethnic identity is usually part of the background rather than a dramatic element.

Calisher published her first book of short stories, In the Absence of Angels, in 1951, and her first novel, False Entry, in 1961. She wrote about her own family in three memoirs. Calisher's final work, Tattoo for a Slave (2004), traces the history of her father's family from before the Civil War to her own lifetime. She was a Guggenheim fellow twice and a National Book Award finalist three times. Though popular fame eluded her, she has been lauded as a "writer's writer" with a wide imaginative and formal range, and has been both praised and criticized for her intricate plot and rich character development.

Past president of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and of PEN, Calisher died January 13, 2009.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 201-202;


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Hortense Calisher debuts in the New Yorker." (Viewed on October 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/10/1948/hortense-calisher>.


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