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...
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