Alice Hoffman Biography

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(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 revolves around the dynamics of their family. Critics praising the novel have said that its mythic features and hypnotic language are its best qualities. Hoffman’s The Drowning Season was named by Library Journal as one of the notable books of 1979.

By the time The Drowning Season was published Hoffman had married, and she and her husband, Tom Martin, a screenwriter, moved to Boston. There Hoffman met Faith Sales, a vice president and executive editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Sales became her editor, mentor, and friend, and with Sales’s guidance Hoffman completed two novels in rapid succession. In 1980 Angel Landing appeared; White Horses followed in 1982.

Before Hoffman’s fifth novel, Fortune’s Daughter, was published, her first son, Jake, was born. According to her, it was while she was pregnant—she assumed she was carrying a girl—that the idea for the novel came to her. She told one interviewer, “I thought a great deal about what it means to have a daughter, to want to give someone everything you didn’t have.” She translated her musings into a hauntingly lyrical tale concerned with the loss of children.

The subject of Hoffman’s next two novels, Illumination Night and At Risk, is fear. In Illumination Night Hoffman examines the effects of a character’s agoraphobia—an affliction from which she herself has suffered—on her family. The subject of At Risk is the fear of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Hoffman, who gave birth to her...

(The entire section is 1,470 words.)