Cynthia Ozick Biography

Cynthia Ozick Biography

Cynthia Ozick is more than just a genre writer. Despite her expansive number of short-form and novel-length writing, Ozick’s Judaic interests have caused some critics to reductively pigeonhole her work. Certainly, her knowledge of the many different tenets and belief systems under the large umbrella of Judaism has had a tremendous impact on her career. But it is her rich depictions and unique point of view that have merged character and culture in her work. Of particular interest to her is the identity of Jewish women, which she writes about from personal experience. Faith may be an important part of her life and studies, but her learned perspective on education has been of equal significance to her writing.

Facts and Trivia

  • Ozick’s writing process is incredibly detailed and research-oriented. Some of her novels took nearly a decade to complete.
  • Ozick's parents were born in Russia, and established a pharmacy in New York City. Ozick used to help out by delivering prescriptions.
  • During her early studies, Ozick became enthralled with the writing of Henry James, whose work was highly influential on her evolution as a writer.
  • Part of Ozick’s immersion in the Jewish ideology that figures so prominently in her work comes from her father, who was a Talmudist scholar.
  • Ozick has been honored with O. Henry Awards and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Ozick made a brief foray into the theater in the early 1990s, adapting some of her work for the stage. After many false starts, one play was finally produced under the direction of the legendary Sidney Lumet.
  • David Foster Wallace once described Ozick as one of the greatest contemporary American writers.

Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cynthia Ozick was born in New York City on April 17, 1928, the second child of pharmacist William Ozick and Celia Regelson Ozick. She was raised in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, a middle-class neighborhood, where she attended Public School 71. “At P.S. 71,” Ozick once remarked in an interview, “I was dumb, cross-eyed, and couldn’t do arithmetic.” Remembering encounters with anti-Semitic teachers and peers, she vividly recalls “teachers who hurt me, who made me believe I was stupid and inferior.”

Regardless of her negative early educational experiences, Ozick emerged as a gifted academic. Her youth was spent devouring books, sometimes for eighteen hours a day. She attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan and New York University, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English. She then taught from 1949 to 1951 at Ohio State University, where she earned an M.A. Her thesis, “Parable in the Later Novels of Henry James,” revealed an early reverence for that late nineteenth and early twentieth century American novelist. In fact, throughout much of Ozick’s early fiction rings a distinctive Jamesian tone.

Although she knew her destiny was to be a novelist, Ozick began her literary career by composing poetry, a pursuit she interspersed with fiction and essay writing until age thirty-six but then dropped. Her primary goal, writing a great modern novel, she began immediately after acquiring her graduate degree and marrying Bernard Hollote, a lawyer. She ambitiously began writing a “philosophical” novel, taking seven years to compose some 300,000 words of an incomplete tome. “Mippel,” as she calls the unfinished work, in reference to mythical poet and visionary William Blake’s “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love” (1789), is a typically erudite allusion.

Seven years into writing “Mippel,” Ozick entered herself in a novella contest of sorts, assuming that she could complete a short piece of fiction in six weeks, then return to her novel. The novella project grew longer, however, consuming another seven years of her life, and eventually evolved into Ozick’s first published work, Trust (1966)....

(The entire section is 913 words.)

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Among her contemporaries, Ozick has been distinguished by her devotion to literature; she does not go on to the next sentence until she has perfected the first. Although her fiction has universal relevance, Ozick’s stories are rooted in her Jewish conscience, along with the moral, ethical, and cultural questions accompanying that often burdensome state of mind.

A recipient of numerous literary awards, Ozick’s toughest critic is herself. A shy individual who is deeply concerned with Jewish culture and morals, Ozick’s true personality can only be discovered through careful reading of her work.

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born of Russian immigrants who took up residence in the Bronx borough in New York, Cynthia Ozick and her parents and siblings worked in the family drugstore, which kept them in comfort and relative prosperity even through the years of the Great Depression. As a female child, Ozick was not marked for extensive education by her family and community. Nevertheless, she was enrolled at the age of five and a half in a Yiddish-Hebrew school, so she could take religious instruction, and her family insisted that she be allowed to stay. The rabbi giving the instruction soon found that she had what he called a “golden head.” Successful as she was in religious instruction, however, her public school experiences were difficult and humiliating. It was not until her entrance into Hunter College High School in Manhattan that she was once again made to feel part of an intellectual elite. Her years at New York University, where she earned a B.A. in 1949, were followed by attendance at Ohio State University, where she received her M.A. in 1951.

In 1952, she married Bernard Hallote. One daughter, Rachel, was born in 1965. Early in her career, Ozick became interested in the Jewish textual tradition, and over the years she became an expert in it. In fiction and nonfiction, she has argued with passion concerning the vital role Judaism has played in Western culture, and she has become for many a spokesperson for the importance of art and artists in the Jewish tradition and for the role of women in Jewish culture.

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born of Russian Jewish immigrants, Cynthia Ozick was brought up in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx in New York City, where her parents operated a pharmacy and managed to scrape by during the Great Depression. At P.S. (Public School) 71, she was a “luckless goosegirl, friendless and forlorn,” and she was indifferent to her studies at Hebrew school.

After graduating from Hunter College High School, she attended New York University. She was determined to be a writer. At Ohio State University she wrote her master’s thesis on Henry James, indicating her early dedication to that writer. “At twenty-two,” she later wrote, “I lived like the elderly, bald-headed Henry James,” a devotee of the sacredness of art. The product of this intense dedication was the 1966 novel Trust. Ozick was disillusioned with the shortcomings of her artistic accomplishment, “which did not speak to the Gentiles, for whom it had been begun, nor to the Jews, for whom it had been finished.”

The essay “Toward a New Yiddish” (1970) marks an important turning point for Ozick, artistically, morally, and intellectually. Literature, she decided, is important not for formal reasons but because it lays out the specifics of life being lived. She attempted thereafter to write fiction that would interpret the “meaning” of Jewish life and the Jewish sensibility. This effort may be seen clearly in her novels and short fiction. In 1952, Ozick married Bernard Hallote. They made their home in Yonkers, New York, and they have one daughter, Rachel, a biblical archaeologist.

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Cynthia Ozick recalls her grandmother telling her stories, invariably conveying a lesson, about girlhood in a Russian Jewish village. From her drugstore-owning parents, she overhead “small but stirring adventures” confided by their Bronx neighbors. “Reading-lust” led her to fairy tales, to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature, and to a self-taught education in Judaism’s textual tradition. From these various influences, Ozick creates fiction noted for its range and inventiveness. Her reputation is based largely on her short fiction. Ozick has more than once won the O. Henry Award.

Ozick’s first book, however, was a novel, Trust. It concerns a young woman’s search for identity. A predominant theme in Ozick’s work has been the difficulty of sustaining one’s Jewish identity in America’s secular, assimilationist society. Assimilated, rootless Jews are frequently objects of satire in her fiction. What Ozick proposes, in terms of language, is a New Yiddish, understandable to English speakers yet preserving the tone and inflections of Yiddish, a language that is facing extinction as a result of the Holocaust and assimilation.

For Ozick, the Orthodox Jewish moral code remains the standard against which life and art are measured. America’s materialistic culture, she maintains, is essentially pagan, and therefore hostile to Judaism. This conflict is clearly evident in “The Pagan Rabbi,” a story in which attraction to nature drives the title character to suicide. The idea that the artist competes with God as creator also concerns Ozick. Particularly in “Usurpation (Other People’s Stories),” Ozick intimates that writers are congenital plagiarizers and, more seriously, usurpers of God. The hubris of a person attempting godlike creation is approached humorously in “Puttermesser and Xanthippe,” in which the female protagonist fashions a female golem, first to help with the housework, then to reform New York City. So convinced is Ozick of the pervasiveness of idolatrous ambition that her heroines display an arrogant singlemindedness that feminists usually associate with men. In the story “The Shawl” and its sequel, the novella “Rosa,” Ozick, herself a mother, imagines a woman who idolizes the memory of a daughter murdered by the Nazis.

Ozick’s vigilance against idolatry extends to her narrative style. Postmodernist, self-referential techniques—asides, interruptions, and explanations—alert readers to the illusions of fiction. Ironic in effect, they also deflate authorial claims to being like God.

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Many critics consider Cynthia Ozick (OH-zihk) to be among the most talented authors of the second half of the twentieth century. She certainly ranks high among women authors and Jewish authors, although she disclaims the first category as demeaning and meaningless. Born in New York City on April 17, 1928, to pharmacist William Ozick and Celia Regelson Ozick, Cynthia Ozick showed promise throughout her academic career. She was a Phi Beta Kappa and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English from New York University. She taught from 1949 to 1951 at Ohio State University, where she earned a M.A. Ozick married Bernard Hallote, a lawyer; the couple had a daughter, Rachel. After returning to New York University as an...

(The entire section is 983 words.)

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Known primarily for her short stories and novellas, Cynthia Ozick is one of the most celebrated Jewish- American writers of the century. She...

(The entire section is 371 words.)

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Cynthia Ozick was born on April 17,1928, in New York City. Her parents, William and Celia (Regelson) Ozick, had come to the United States...

(The entire section is 347 words.)

Cynthia Ozick Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Cynthia Ozick was born April 17, 1928, in New York City, the second child of Russian immigrants William and Celia Ozick. Her parents owned...

(The entire section is 434 words.)