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August 02, 2002 - Image 79

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-02

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Calisher, who is mar-
ried to the novelist Curtis
Harnack, has lived in her
West Side apartment in a
landmark building for
more than 40 years. The
walls in the sitting room
are high enough to
accommodate paintings
(many done by artists
who are friends) hung
above one another.
The room has a warm
feeling, filled with
antique furniture, colorful
rugs and family photo-
graphs. In conversation,
the author makes fre-
quent references to her
books and stories.
Her family goes back
three generations in the
United States, albeit long
ones. ner grandfather
came here in 1827, mar-
ried in 1852 in
Richmond, Va., where
Hortense Calisher: "There's an awful lot of sperm in
her father, the seventh
Jewish novels by men. I get a little sick of it."
son, was born. Her
father married at age 50.
"Adding my own age, it's
encounter anti-Semitism in a woman
quite a long stretch, with a lot of
who is "old stock."
family," she says.
It brought Calisher many comments
About her own Jewish identity, she
from those who questioned her knowl-
adds, "I was very lucky. My father was
edge of Jews and of the Catskills.
very proud of being a Jew. My mother
"Thad other things to say and was
was a German Jew. You know what that busy saying them," she says. "Nothing
entails. She had certain feelings about
is about one subject, as far- as I'm con-
other Jews. I identified with my father." cerned.
The author grew up in the
"I had no interest in being identified
Washington Heights section of New
as a Jewish writer," she adds, praising
York City. At Mt. Nebo, the Reform
Bernard Malamud, arid, by their first
synagogue her family attended, she
names, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow.
attended Hebrew school with Arthur
"They had it all tangled up with other
Lelyveld, who went on to become a
well-known activist rabbi.
About Sunday Jews, she says, "I had
She recalls that her father, passionate said things that were particularly
about both his Southern and his
attached to how a woman would see
Jewish identities, read Hebrew with a
Jewish life. There's an awful lot of
Southern drawl.
sperm in Jewish novels by men. I get a
little sick of it."
Calisher avoids writing with a mes-
Late Start
sage, and doesn't have an agenda.
Calisher didn't begin writing until she
Rather, when she writes, all kinds of
was in her late 30s and living in the
ideas and experience flood in.
suburbs. The director of a local arts
"Writing is like putting your hand
center encouraged her to send out her
in a deep well and pulling something
stories for publication.
out. Very often you come up with
Although initially turned down, sev-
what you didn't know you had."
eral pieces were accepted by the New
About her many books she says, "I
Yorker, and Calisher began publishing
never know how they're going to float
her work there in the 1940s.
up. They make themselves.
Her first novel, False Entry, was pub-
'I'd realized that after I had done
lished in 1951. One story she wrote
quite a few — that no matter what I
for the New Yorker, "Old Stock," was
was writing about overtly, I was writ-
about a 15-year old Jewish girl and her ing about my country from different
mother visiting the Catskills who
angles." ❑

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