Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968), American novelist and playwright, is a name perhaps less known today than other classic women authors. In her heyday, she was considered one of the most successful writers of the time—primarily the 1920s through the early 50s. Her sprawling stories may be better known today than she herself is; it could be argued that she’s a forgotten author to be revisited.
Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ferber came of age in Appleton, Wisconsin. There, she started her writing career as a newspaper reporter at age 17. That led to a similar post at the Milwaukee Journal. She stored many of the experiences she encountered to use in her books.
Complete devotion to writing
Ferber’s life was completely devoted to writing, almost to the exclusion of all else. She was constantly asked by readers if her novels were telling the story of her own life, because the characters, events and settings were so real to them. She considered these tales her “inner life” as they came to reality in her mind and by her pen.
An independent woman
Ferber was an independent woman who answered to no one. Her books’ success gave her a great deal of clout in film and theater. With their strong female characters, imaginative plots, and colorful locales, most of her novels became not only best sellers but also Academy Award-winning movies. These include Giant, Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk, and Cimarron.
An earlier novel, So Big, won a Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote eight plays, several of which were co-written with George S. Kaufman and produced on Broadway. The best known of these are Stage Door, The Royal Family, and Dinner at Eight.
An observer of human nature
Ferber didn’t gloss over the truth of human nature in her works — people could be greedy, cruel, and violent. She was also, as a Jewish woman in an antisemitic world, keenly aware of discrimination and oppression, and use these themes in various ways in her works.
In their time, Edna Ferber’s works were financial goldmines. Though her fiction and theatrical work may now be deemed more “popular” than literary, within her accessible storylines she spoke out against discrimination and classism, and created bold female protagonists. Edna Ferber died in New York City in 1968.
See also: Edna Ferber Quotes on Writing and Life
More about Edna Ferber on this site
- Edna Ferber: Forgotten Author Revisited
- Quotes on Writing and Life
- 5 Great Tips for the Writing Life
- Edna Ferber Writes Fiction Because She Can’t Help Herself
- The Unanticipated Success of So Big (1924)
- A Peculiar Treasure is Testimony to the Glorious Career of a Writer
- Dorothy Parker’s Review of Ice Palace
- Novelist Edna Ferber Dead at 86 in NY (obituary)
- Success or Failure, All’s to Do Again
- Developing the Discipline to Write Regularly
- Classic Women Authors Tackle Writer’s Block
- How can I stick to a writing schedule?
- Edna Ferber’s Show Boat from Stage to Screen
- So Big (1924)
- Show Boat (1926)
- Cimarron (1929)
- Come and Get It (1935)
- Saratoga Trunk (1945)
- Giant (1952)
- Ice Palace (1958)
In addition to these major works, Ferber produced numerous other novels, including her first, Dawn O’Hara (1911), followed by Buttered Side Down (1912); Fanny Herself (1917); Gigolo (1922); American Beauty (1931); and many others. Her early Emma McChesney stories were quite popular in their time.
Selected Stage Plays (those listed below were co-written with George S. Kaufman)
- Stage Door (1926)
- The Royal Family (1927)
- Dinner at Eight (1932)
- The Land is Bright (1941)
- Bravo (1946)
Autobiographies and Biographies about Edna Ferber
- Ferber on Wikipedia
- Edna Ferber and the James Adams Floating Theatre
- Writing Under Difficulties
- Ferber’s books discussed on Goodreads
- Ferber page on Amazon
Selected film adaptations of Edna Ferber’s works
- Cimarron (1931)
- So Big (1932)
- Saratoga Trunk (1945)
- Show Boat (1936)
- Show Boat (1951)
- Giant (1956)
- Cimarron (1960)
- Edna Ferber’s Home – New York, NY
See also: The Unanticipated Success of So Big (1924)
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