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. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and having come of age in Appleton, Wisconsin, Ferber started her writing career as a newspaper reporter.
Her life’s theme was the complete and utter devotion to writing, almost to the exclusion of all else. Ferber 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.
At age seventeen, Ferber started working as a newspaper reporter in Appleton. That led to a similar post at the Milwaukee Journal. She stored many of the experiences she encountered to use in her books.
She 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.
Ferber was an independent, powerful woman whose 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.
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.
More about Edna Ferber on this site
- Edna Ferber: Forgotten Author Revisited
- Edna Ferber Writes Fiction Because She Can’t Help Herself (interview, 1924)
- Edna Ferber and the Unanticipated Success of So Big (1924)
- Edna Ferber’s a Peculiar Treasure is Testimony to the Glorious Career of a Writer
- Novelist Edna Ferber Dead at 86 in NY (obituary)
- Inspiration: “I’d love to, but I can’t. I’m working.”
- Literary Musing: Success or Failure, All’s to Do Again
- Literary Musing: Developing the Discipline to Write Regularly
- Literary Musing: Classic Women Authors Tackle Writer’s Block
- Dear Literary Ladies: How can I stick to a writing schedule?
- 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
- Edna Ferber on Wikipedia
- Edna Ferber and the James Adams Floating Theatre
- Edna Ferber / Writing Under Difficulties
- Edna Ferber’s books discussed on Goodreads
- Edna 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
Edna Ferber Quotes
“If American politics are too dirty for women to take part in, there’s something wrong with American politics.”
“This is certain: I never have written a line except to please myself. I never have written with an eye to what is called the public or the market or the trend or the editor or the reviewer.” (A Peculiar Treasure, 1939)
“Is this, they ask, the story of your life? … Yes. My inner life. The life of imagination and creative ability. Writing is a lonely work but the creative writer is rarely alone. The room in which one works is peopled with the men and women and children in the writer’s imagination. Often they are difficult—but rarely boring—company. This is a fortunate thing, for they are with one day and night, they never leave while the book or play is in progress…” (A Kind of Magic, 1963)
“To be a professional writer one must be prepared to give up almost everything except living … The first lesson to be learned by a writer is to be able to say, “Thanks so much. I’d love to, but I can’t. I’m working.” (A Kind of Magic, 1963)
“The writer is a writer because [she] cannot help it. It is a compulsion. Sometimes it is called a gift, but actually it is an urge for expression that simply cannot be denied.”
“Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death — fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”
“What can a writer wish for more splendid than to know that by putting those little black marks on a sheet of blank white paper there have been accepted in the mind of the reader human beings with three dimensions who walk talk breathe live suffer exult die, much as the reader has done or will do, or has observed in his fellow men.” (A Kind of Magic, 1963)
“Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!”
“Every day for hours one is shut up in a room with the company of chosen people created by oneself. It is a pattern of self-immolation familiar to any writer worth reading. The writer does not even remotely look upon this as a hardship. It is a way of life; a necessary and chosen way of life. Witty conversation, purposely dull dialogue, love, murder, marriage, birth, violence, triumph, failure, death — anything can happen in that room.” (A Kind of Magic, 1963)
“Success stimulates the glands, revivifies the spirits, feeds the ego, fills the purse. Failure is a depressing thing to face. The critics rip your play to ribbons, audiences refuse to come to it; reviewers say your book is dull, or trite, readers will not buy it. You read these things, you hear them, you face them as you would face any misfortune, with as much good grace as you can summon.” (A Peculiar Treasure, 1939)
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