Fannie Hurst, novelist, advocate

Fannie Hurst (October 19, 1885 – February 23, 1968) was an American novelist and short story writer whose works were highly popular during the post-World War I era. Her work combined sentimental, romantic themes with social issues of the day, such as women’s rights and race relations. She was one of the most widely read woman authors of the 20th century, and for a time in the 1920s was one of the highest-paid American writers. She also actively supported a number of social causes, including feminism, African American equality, and New Deal programs.

Her novel ‘Imitation of Life’ was one of almost 30 of her works adapted into a film, this one starring Claudette Colbert and a remake of the film in the 1950’s starring Lana Turner. Ms. Hurst moved to New York City to pursue a writing career in 1911 from St, Louis and never looked back, supporting her struggling writing career by working as a waitress and a salesgirl at Macy’s. In her spare time, Hurst attended night court sessions and visited Ellis Island and the slums, becoming in her own words “passionately anxious to awake in others a general sensitiveness to small people,” and developing an awareness of “causes, including the lost and the threatened.” Though her stories were popular, they were not critically acclaimed. She was often parodied and call the “Queen of the Sob Sisters” (“sob sister” being a term used in the early 20th century for female reporters who wrote sentimental human interest stories designed to evoke an emotional response from female readers.)

During the 1930s and 1940s, Hurst was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and a frequent White House visitor. Hurst was named chair of the National Housing Commission in 1936-1937 and appointed to the National Advisory Committee to the Works Progress Administration in 1940. She was a delegate to the World Health Organization in 1952. In 1958, Hurst briefly hosted a television talk show out of New York called Showcase. Showcase was notable for presenting several of the earliest well-rounded discussions of homosexuality and was one of the few programs on which homosexual men spoke for themselves rather than being debated by a panel of “experts”.

Though very influential at the time, her legacy has been lost to most people. The films based on her novels are worth a Saturday afternoon inside.

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