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)....
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