Ferber, Edna

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber (1885-1968) is a name perhaps less known today than some of the others in this group, but she was considered one of the most successful authors of her era—primarily the 1920s through the early 50s. Her theme is the complete and utter devotion to the writing life, almost to the exclusion of all else. See our entry, Edna Ferber: Forgotten Author Revisited.

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.

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. She also wrote eight plays, some of which were produced on Broadway. Her works were financial goldmines. Though her fiction and theatrical work may now be deemed more “popular” then literary, within her accessible storylines she spoke out against discrimination and classism, and created bold female protagonists.

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Edna Ferber Quotes

“A closed mind is a dying mind.”

“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. Good or bad, popular or unpopular, lasting or ephemeral, the words I have put down on paper were the best words I could summon at the time to express the thing I wanted more then anything else to say.” (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)

“It is better to think of a novel or any long piece of work as a day to day task to be done, no matter how eagerly you may think ahead (when you’re not actually putting words to paper) to the chapters not yet written. It is a long journey, to be undertaken sometimes with hope and confidence and high spirits; sometimes with despair. If one thinks of it in terms of four hundred—four hundred and fifty—five hundred pages, one can drown in a morass of apprehension. So one step after another, slowly, painfully, but a step. And so it grows. You have felt or observed in life something that you want terribly to say, and you want to say it more than you want to do anything else in the world.” (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.”

“Success or failure, you go on to the next piece of work at hand. There may be a day of brooding or sulking or self-pity or resentment. But next morning there’s coffee and the newspaper and your typewriter, and the world. What’s done is done. Won or lose, success or failure, all’s to do again. If a lawyer or a doctor or a merchant or an engineer fails at a task it is, usually, a matter of private concern. But the failure of a playwright, an actor, a novelist, a musician, is publicly and scathingly announced and broadcast and published over an entire continent and frequently the whole civilized world. Often the terms of that announcement are cruel, personal, or even malicious, thought the last is rare. Yet next day or next week, there she is writing, acting, singing, or playing again. That’s being a craftsman.” (A Peculiar Treasure, 1939)

“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) 

“The born writer goes to her desk daily and remains there throughout certain fixed hours each day. Sometimes ten words manage to get themselves down on paper, sometimes a page or two, sometimes (rarely) five or even more…. If after months and sometimes years of research, of notes, of a first rough copy, you being to try to assemble this amorphous body into some semblance of form, begin the actual long process of writing in order and in sequence, it is better (for me, at least) to think of it only in terms of one day; today’s work only. Each day three pages, two pages, even but one on a bad day; and sometimes all of it to be rewritten next day and often rewritten and rewritten.” (A Kind of Magic, 1963)   

“There is the danger, always, of trying to write better than you can. The next book, the one you are just beginning to cope with, must be better than the one before it, or before that, you say (but not consciously). It must be more seriously conceived, more entertaining, more adult; fresher, more vital. This naturally brings up a hideous structure known in writers’ psychological language as a block, and as a result you can’t writer anything.” (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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