YEZIERSKA, ANZIA (1885?–1970), U.S. novelist. Anzia Yezierska was reared in an Orthodox home in Russia and was taken to New York at the age of 16. Her life was a mixture of poverty (which she emphasized through her novels) as well as education and literary attainment. Her experience of conditions on the Lower East Side of New York gave authenticity to her first collection of short stories, Hungry Hearts (1920), which established her reputation as a realist. Its success raised her for a short time from poverty in New York to riches in Hollywood, but unable to endure that life for long she returned to New York.
Her subsequent books, which also dealt with the adjustment of the Jewish immigrant to American life, were Salome of the Tenements (1923); Children of Loneliness (1923); Bread Givers (1925): Arrogant Beggar (1927); and All I Could Never Be (1932). In later life she reassessed the traditional values rejected in her youth and found that they gave a heightened meaning to life. Her autobiography, Red Ribbon on a White Horse, appeared in 1950.
Remarkably, she had a love affair with John Dewey, whom she met in 1917 at Columbia University. Their affair was brief, and he spurned her. Their relationship occupies Norma Rosen's novel John and Anzia: An American Romance (1989).
Fortunately, her works have been rediscovered, especially by feminists. Yezierska's portraits of strong, self-willed women helped a new generation of readers understand both the constraints placed upon Jewish women and the vitality needed to break the bonds of custom.
J.A. Boydston (ed.), The Poems of John Dewey (1977); L. Henrickson, Anzi Yezierska: A Writer's Lfe (1988); D. Konzett, Ethnic Modernisms: Anzia Yezierska, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Rhys, and the Aesthetics of Dislocation (2002); J. Martin, The Education of John Dewey: A Biography (2002); C. Schoen, Anzia Yezierska (1982).
[Sol Liptzin /
Lewis Fried (2nd ed.)]
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