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Anzia Yezierska Biography

(c.1885–1970), Hungry Hearts, Bread Givers, David Levinksy, Red Ribbon on a White Horse

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Woking Surrey to Æ

Jewish-American novelist, born in Russian Poland to an impoverished family who migrated to the Lower East Side ghetto of Manhattan in the 1890s. Ambitious and fiercely independent, she rejected the gender constraints of her orthodox background and set out, on the meagre wages of sweatshop and laundry work, to learn English. A prolonged struggle to develop her writing skills was finally rewarded with meteoric celebrity when Hungry Hearts (1920), a collection of stories of ghetto life, was sold to Hollywood for filming. Over the next decade she published five more works of fiction, in which an intensive and often autobiographical preoccupation with female experience gives an unusual slant to the traditional immigrant themes of cultural dislocation and conflict; Bread Givers (1925), in particular, ranks with Abraham Cahan's David Levinksy as a classic of the ‘ethnic passage’ genre. The Depression eclipsed her reputation and after a period with the Federal Writers' Project she relapsed into poverty. Apart from her fictionalized life story Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950), she remained almost forgotten until she was rediscovered in the mid-1960s. A collection of previously unpublished work appeared posthumously in The Open Cage (1979).

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