Hortense Calisher Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207180-Calisher.jpg Hortense Calisher Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Hortense Calisher’s background was urbane secular-Jewish, with an often emphasized splash of the southern—her father was from Richmond, Virginia. (Both Calisher’s father and paternal grandfather were married and started families late, as do many of her fictional males.) Born and educated in New York City (her B.A. is from Barnard College, where she studied literature and philosophy), she lived there or nearby for most of her life. After graduation from college, she worked as a sales clerk, as a model, and for some years as a social worker. In 1935 she married Heaton Bennett Heffelfinger, an engineer by whom she had a son and a daughter and from whom she was divorced in 1958. In 1959 she married Curtis Harnack, also a writer, who, like her first husband, was a Gentile. In her autobiographical collection Herself, which includes thoughts on writing, on values, and on her contemporaries, she expresses a preference for Christian men. Also in Herself, Calisher obliquely mentions her children, referring once or twice to emotional problems her daughter had when reaching maturity but otherwise saying little about domestic matters. She does indicate that she spent much time traveling for the United States Information Agency in the 1950’s; on a trip to the Far East she noted that Japanese writers had maintained that their own literature differed from Western literature in that they had no sense of original sin. If that is so, there is a definite Eastern quality to Calisher’s fiction.

Calisher was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952 and 1953 and received many other awards, both literary and academic. She wrote that she does not care for academic life, nor does she believe much in creative...

(The entire section is 704 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

After graduating from Barnard College in 1932 with a B.A. in English, Hortense Calisher worked at a variety of jobs in New York, including sales clerk, model, and social worker for the Department of Public Welfare. In 1935, she married Heaton Bennet Heffelfinger, an engineer, and had two children. Her first marriage ended in divorce in 1958, and in 1959 Calisher married Curtis Harnack, a writer. Calisher’s family history as a New York City native born of middle-class Jewish parents, a southern father and a German mother, provides the material for many of her stories; other stories are informed by her later life experiences as a suburban housewife. She taught creative writing and literature courses at a number of colleges and universities, including Barnard College, Iowa State University, Sarah Lawrence College, Brandeis University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, the State University of New York at Purchase, and the University of California at Irvine. She lectured in West Germany, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Hungary. Calisher died in New York City on January 13, 2009. She was 97.