Edna Ferber: Biography & Books

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

A Pulitzer, a membership in the exclusive Algonquin Round Table and a book turned into a popular musical - these are the hallmarks of Edna Ferber's life and career. In this lesson, we'll learn more about her.

Ferber's Method

Have you ever made a split-second decision that changed the course of your life? If so, then you share something in common with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Edna Ferber, who won the award for her book, So Big, entered the writing profession in a rather unusual way: by storming into the office of the Appleton Daily Crescent. An editor there hired Ferber and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let's dig a little deeper into the life of author Edna Ferber.

Who Was Edna Ferber?

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in August 1885, Edna Ferber spent most of her life growing up in either her Michigan hometown or Appleton, Wisconsin. Her parents, immigrants of Jewish descent, owned their own business, which forced the family to move around to find not only the best economic conditions but less anti-Semitic (prejudice toward Jewish people) communities.

Edna Ferber won a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.
Edna Ferber

Ferber attended high school in Wisconsin, where she nurtured her love of acting by appearing in numerous school productions. Ferber had plans to pursue acting once she graduated, but her father's failing health prohibited her from following her dreams. Instead, Ferber studied for a short time at Lawrence University before finally looking for employment at the office of the local newspaper, where she was hired as a reporter.

Early Writing

Ferber worked at the Appleton newspaper, followed by the Milwaukee Journal, where she suffered a breakdown due to long and grueling hours. That breakdown might have been the key to the Edna Ferber who became a household name for works such as Cimarron (later turned into an Oscar-winning movie) and Show Boat, which became a popular musical.

While recovering from her exhaustion, Ferber failed to slow down. During this period, she wrote ''The Homely Heroine,'' which appears in Everybody's Magazine. It was followed shortly by her first novel, Dawn O'Hara. One year after its publication, Ferber moved to New York City to better pursue her writing career.

A Developing Author

Ferber's writing took a more defined approach in the years to follow. She wrote about empowering female lead characters and life in the Midwest in the 1920s and 1930s. Having endured discrimination for her Jewish background, Ferber wrote often about characters who faced similar circumstances.

By 1924, she had penned So Big, which chronicled the life of a female farmer trying to tend land left by her husband as well as raise a son. The work earned her the Pulitzer Prize. Yet, her most famous work was yet to come: 1925's Show Boat, a woman who becomes a successful singer after her husband left her. The work became a famous musical from playwright Oscar Hammerstein II.

By the time of her death, due to stomach cancer, in April 1968 at her New York City residence, Ferber had authored more than two dozen novels and short story collections, as well as numerous plays. Ferber was never married and had no children.

Accolades and Bibliography

Ferber's long and storied writing career included many projects and exclusive memberships to groups like the Algonquin Round Table, a group of literary minds who met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel.

During those luncheons, Ferber was able to link up with fellow writers, such as playwright George Kaufman, with whom she wrote Dinner at Eight and Stage Door. Dinner at Eight follows a family, as well as the guests, preparing for a high-society dinner. Stage Door tells the story of a house full of young women who venture to New York City to pursue their fame and fortune.

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