Study Guide

Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alice Hoffman is the author of several novels and short stories; she has also written screenplays. She has a knack for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, and writing is her only vocation.

Hoffman was born March 16, 1952, in New York City. Her father, a real estate agent, and her mother, a social worker, divorced when she was eight years old. After her parents’ separation, Hoffman remained with her mother, a woman who was university educated as well as an avid reader. As she grew up in Franklin Square on Long Island, New York, Hoffman, too, spent a great deal of her time immersed in literature. She was a voracious reader with a passion for science fiction, fairy tales, and anything to do with magic. Stories about normal families encountering the fantastic were Hoffman’s favorites.

Hoffman has never outgrown her childhood interest in magic or love of creating her own fantasy worlds. From a young age she enjoyed writing. Throughout her childhood she filled notebooks with different versions of spectacular fantasy worlds, and she has said that she “always wanted to be a writer.” After graduating from high school she entered Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. She received encouragement from her professors and gradually began to gain confidence in her work. After she completed her B.A. degree in 1973, she was awarded a Mirelles Fellowship to the M.F.A. program at Stanford University. While attending Stanford, Hoffman studied under Albert Guerard. Hoffman earned her M.A. degree in 1975, and the following summer she attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont.

As Hoffman pursued her M.A. degree, her work began to appear in print. Magazines including Ms., Redbook, Fiction, and American Review published her short stories and helped launch her career. Before she even had a chance to cultivate her reputation as a short-story writer, a publishing house contacted her about writing a novel. The novel she delivered was Property Of. Published in 1977, Property Of quickly garnered critical praise and was hailed as “an impressive debut.” With Property Of, the story of a troubled love affair between a seventeen-year-old girl and the leader of an urban gang, Hoffman established herself as realist capable of rendering everyday occurrences as something fabulous.

In 1979 Hoffman published her second novel, The Drowning Season. The central characters of the novel are Esther the White, a Russian emigrée, and her granddaughter, Esther the Black; the story...

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Alice Hoffman Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952, and grew up on Long Island. Her mother was a teacher and social worker, and her father was a real estate agent. Though her parents divorced when she was eight years old, her father remained a constant in her life because he had left her his vast collection of fantasy and science-fiction magazines and novels, including the works of Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. She became an insatiable reader. She loved fairy tales and myths, which she later deemed the inspiration for all literature to follow. The dark, scary tales by the Grimm brothers appealed to her more than the lighter offerings of Mother Goose and Hans Christian Andersen.

After graduating from high school, Hoffman entered the workforce, but a single morning in the factory of Doubleday convinced her that she was not suited for supervised eight-hour days and restroom passes; she quit that job at noon. Though she had not considered herself college material, she enrolled at Adelphi University, graduating with a degree in English and anthropology in 1973. She was awarded a Mirrellees Fellowship and studied at Stanford University, earning her master of arts degree in 1975.

Hoffman attributes her motivation to become a writer to her mentor and professor, Albert J. Guerard, and to Maclin Bocock Guerard, both accomplished authors who encouraged her to publish her first short story. Her first novel, Property Of, was published in 1977. From then on, aside from establishing a home and raising two children with husband Ted Martin, writing has been her life.

Neither her breast-cancer diagnosis in 1998 nor the yearlong radiation treatments could interfere with Hoffman’s will to keep writing. She has said that when she was too sick to sit at her desk, she would move to her office futon, switching from one to the other throughout the day while she explored plot ideas and characters. Hoffman has said that she is not always comfortable in the world, often feeling horrified and adrift, like an outsider looking in, a state that helps her powers of observation when studying people as potential characters. Having struggled with phobias, panic attacks, a lingering fear of bridge crossings, as well as a natural cynicism and fatalism, she has always considered writing a means of healing. She believes that in giving life to inner terrors, she can help readers recognize the truth of emotional illness.