Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst and Their Cult Classic Jewish Novels

In their heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, Edna Ferber and Fannie Hurst enjoyed tremendous popularity but fell into relative obscurity soon after their deaths in 1968. With a decidedly Jewish sensibility, both of these women tell stories to inspire compassion and empathy about social issues–from body image to opioid abuse, from women’s roles to racism and the treatment of immigrants–startlingly relevant today.

Ferber and Hurst were very different kinds of writers, but their lives overlapped in surprising ways. Both were born in 1885 and grew up in assimilated Jewish families in the American Midwest. Both moved to Manhattan in their twenties to pursue their writing careers. Each was one of two daughters; ironically––or oddly, given their other coincidental pairings––Ferber’s older sister was named Fannie and Hurst’s little sister, who died as a child, was named Edna. Ferber didn’t marry and Hurst and her husband famously maintained separate residences throughout their marriage, giving rise to the expression “a Fannie Hurst marriage.” Neither had children. Both published dozens of well-received novels, short stories, memoirs, plays, and magazine articles that brought important social and cultural issues to the attention of their readers. But in light of today’s excellent fiction by American Jewish women that serves a similar purpose, why am I convinced that people will continue to enjoy and identify with their narratives?