Anzia Yezierska

Anzia Yezierska bigraphy, stories - American writer

Anzia Yezierska : biography

1880 – November 21, 1970

Anzia Yezierska (1885 – 1970) was an American novelist born in Maly Plock, Poland.

Yezierska and Hollywood

The success of Anzia Yezierska’s early short stories led to a brief, but significant, relationship between the author and Hollywood. Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights to Yezierska’s collection Hungry Hearts. The film of the same title was shot on location at New York’s Lower East Side with Helen Ferguson, E. Alyn Warren, and Bryant Washburn. In recent years, the film has been restored through the efforts of the National Center for Jewish Film, the Samuel Goldwyn Company, and the British Film Institute. In 2006, a new score was composed to accompany the film. Yezierska’s 1923 novel Salome of the Tenements was also produced as a silent picture. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival showed the restored print in July 2010.

Goldwyn, recognizing the popularity of Yezierska’s stories, gave Yezierska a $100,000 contract to write screenplays. In California, Yezierska’s sudden rise to fame prompted publicists to label her "the sweatshop Cinderella." Although Yezierska’s own semi-autobiographical work had contributed to this rags-to-riches image, she found herself uncomfortable with being touted as an example of the American Dream. Frustrated by the shallowness of Hollywood and by her own alienation from her roots, Yezierska returned to New York in the mid-1920s and continued publishing novels and stories about immigrant women struggling to establish their identities in America.

Works by Anzia Yezierska

  • We Go Forth All To See America – A Vignette (Judaica, Jewish Literature) (1920)
  • Hungry Hearts (short stories, 1920)
  • Salome of the Tenements (novel, 1923)
  • Children of Loneliness (short stories, 1923)
  • Bread Givers: a struggle between a father of the Old World and a daughter of the New (novel, 1925)
  • Arrogant Beggar (novel, 1927)
  • All I Could Never Be (novel, 1932)
  • The Open Cage: An Anzia Yezierska Collection edited by Alice Kessler Harris (New York: Persea Books, 1979) ISBN 978-0-89255-035-7.
  • Red Ribbon on a White Horse: My Story (autobiographical novel, 1950) (ISBN 978-0-89255-124-8)
  • How I Found America: Collected Stories (short stories, 1991) (ISBN 978-0-89255-160-6}
  • The Lost Beautifulness

Personal life

Yezierska was born in the 1880s in Maly Plock to Bernard and Pearl Yezierski. Her family emigrated to America around 1890, following in the footsteps of her eldest brother Meyer, who had arrived in the States six years prior. They took up housing in the Lower East Side, Manhattan. Her family assumed the surname Mayer, while Anzia took Harriet (or Hattie) as her first name. She later reclaimed her original name, Anzia Yezierska, in her late twenties. Her father was a scholar of sacred texts.

Anzia Yezierska’s parents encouraged her brothers to pursue a higher education.

In 1910 she fell in love with Arnold Levitas, but instead married his friend Jacob Gordon, a New York Attorney. After 6 months the marriage was annulled. Shortly after, she married Arnold Levitas in a religious ceremony to avoid legal complications. Arnold was the father of her first and only child, Louise Levitas Henriksen, born May 29, 1912. Around 1914 she left Arnold and moved to San Francisco with her daughter where she was employed as a social worker. However, she later gave up her paternal rights for Louise to Arnold because she was overwhelmed with the chores and responsibilities of raising her daughter. She then moved back to New York City. Around 1917, she engaged in a romantic relationship with Philosopher John Dewey, a professor at Columbia University.

After achieving her goal of becoming an independent woman, her sister influenced her to begin writing. She devoted the remainder of her life to writing.

Yezierska was the aunt of American film critic Cecelia Ager and the great aunt of Ager’s daughter, journalist Shana Alexander.