Calisher, Hortense (1911—)

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Calisher, Hortense (1911—)

American fiction writer. Born Hortense Calisher on December 20, 1911, in New York, New York; daughter of Hedwig (Lichstern) Calisher and Joseph Henry Calisher (a manufacturer); Barnard College, B.A., 1932; married Heaton Bennet Heffelfinger, in 1935 (divorced 1958); married Curtis Harnack, in 1959; children: (first marriage) Bennet and Peter Heffelfinger.

Selected works:

In the Absence of Angels (1951); False Entries (1961); The New Yorkers (1969); Queenie (1971); Herself (1972); The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher (1975); On Keeping Women (1977); Mysteries of Motion (1973); Saratoga Hot (1985); In the Palace of the Movie King (1993).

Born in New York City to parents who were separated in age by 22 years, Hortense Calisher was raised in a household of dichotomies. Her mother, a German-Jewish émigré, fretted over

the details of daily life, especially those concerning finances, while her father, a Jewish manufacturer from Virginia, was easygoing and affectionate. Hortense's grandmother lived with the family as well, adding to the age disparity in the household. "The combination was odd all around," Calisher noted, "volcanic to meditative to fruitfully dull, bound to produce someone interested in character, society and time." After attending Hunter College High School, Calisher enrolled at Barnard College in 1928. She worked her way through college as a waitress and earned an English degree by 1932.

After graduation, she served as a social worker for the Department of Public Welfare in New York City, distributing emergency relief for the poor. She married Heaton Heffelfinger, an engineer, in 1935. After several moves, they settled in the Manhattan suburb of Nyack, where for 13 years Calisher was a housewife. She had two children, a daughter Bennet and a son Peter. Writing was a secret hobby until publication of her story "The Ginger Box" in 1948. By 1951, she had produced enough stories for her first collection, In the Absence of Angels. Calisher earned Guggenheim Fellowships (1952 and 1955) and began to teach at colleges throughout the country. Divorced in 1958, the following year Calisher met Curtis Harnack, then executive director of Yaddo, while she was teaching at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. They married in 1959. Calisher has published more than 15 volumes of fiction.


Hellerman, Jeffrey, and Richard Layman, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1978.

Snodgrass, Kathleen. The Fiction of Hortense Calisher. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993.

Current Biography 1973. NY: H.W. Wilson, pp. 74–77.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts