In 1932, on August 19, Barbara Wersba was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her paternal grandfather was a Russian Jew who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century, winding up in Harlem, when Harlem was a white middle-class neighborhood. While the family grew prosperous, they still found themselves the subjects of anti-Semitic attitudes. Wersba's father married a woman from Florida outside the Jewish faith, and the two had a long but vitriolic marriage. The prejudices against the Jewish religion, and Wersba's parent's fights, have had a large influence on the empathy she feels toward her characters.
As a child, Wersba often played by herself. She dressed somberly, and spent her days daydreaming, writing poetry, and making up plays for her dolls to perform. She dreamed of becoming a poet, or a dancer, or an actress—anything to take her away from the loneliness she felt as a youth. She idolized the matinee stars of the forties, such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, and at age eight or nine, Barbara decided to become an actress. At age eleven, she volunteered at a local theater in exchange for being allowed to watch rehearsals, and she soon thereafter received roles in various plays.
After her parents divorced, Wersba and her mother moved to New York City, to the upper east side. While she had to work a job, and her mother had little money, her father did pay for Wersba to attend prep schools in the city. Wersba was a poor student,...
(The entire section is 530 words.)