Anzia Yezierska

American writer

Anzia Yezierska (c. 18801970) was a novelist born in Pinsk, Congress Poland, Russian Empire who migrated to New York City.

Quotes edit

  • A man is free to go up as high as he can reach up to; but I, with all my style and pep, can't get a man my equal because a girl is always judged by her mother.
    • The Fat of the Land, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)
  • Without comprehension, the immigrant would forever remain shut—a stranger in America. Until America can release the heart as well as train the hand of the immigrant, he would forever remain driven back upon himself, corroded by the very richness of the unused gifts within his soul.
    • How I Found America, pt. 3, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)
  • The trouble with us is that the ghetto of the Middle Ages and the children of the twentieth century have to live under one roof.
    • The Fat of the Land, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)

Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950) edit

  • Poverty was an ornament on a learned man like a red ribbon on a white horse
    • Of Poland, ch. 9
  • Give a beggar a dime and he'll bless you. Give him a dollar and he'll curse you for withholding the rest of your fortune. Poverty is a bag with a hole at the bottom.
    • ch. 9
  • In America, money takes the place of God.
  • Poverty is a bag with a hole at the bottom.
  • I tasted the bread and wine of equality.
  • Years ago, in Hollywood, Samuel Goldwyn said to me that to tell a good story, you must know the end before you begin it. And if you know the end, you can sum up the whole plot in a sentence. But I had always plunged into writing before I knew where it would take me. If a story was alive, it worked itself out as I wrote it.


  • I had sought security in the mud and in the stars, sought it in the quick riches and glory of Hollywood and in the security wage of W.P.A. I sought it everywhere but in myself. Suddenly I felt like that ship-wrecked sailor who had been picked up, dying of thirst, unaware that the current into which he had drifted was fresh water.
  • on the train as I faced my disgrace, I saw that Hollywood was not my success, nor my present poverty and anonymity, failure. I saw that "success," "failure," "poverty," "riches," were price tags, money values of the market place which had mesmerized and sidetracked me for years.
  • For a long time I sat still, staring at the passing scenery through which the train was speeding, pondering the loneliness in each individual soul. The struggle of man, alone with the feeble resources of courage at his command, against a universe that cares nothing for his hopes and fears.
  • A warm wave of happiness welled up in me. Often before I had tried to be happy, but this happiness now came unbidden, unwilled, as though all the hells I had been through had opened a secret door. Why had I no premonition in the wandering years when I was hungering and thirsting for recognition, that this quiet joy, this sanctuary, was waiting for me after I had sunk back to anonymity? I did not have to go to far places, sweat for glory, strain for the smile from important people. All that I could ever be, the glimpses of truth I reached for everywhere, was in myself. The power that makes grass grow, fruit ripen, and guides the bird in its flight is in us all. At any moment when man becomes aware of that inner power, he can rise above the accidents of fortune that rule his outward life, creating and recreating himself out of his defeats. Yesterday I was a bungler, an idiot, a blind destroyer of myself, reaching for I knew not what and only pushing it from me in my ignorance. Today the knowledge of a thousand failures cannot keep me from this light born of my darkness, here, now.

Quotes about Anzia Yezierska edit

  • Reading Miss Yezierska's book sets me thinking again about that famous and curious statement in the Preamble to the Constitution about the self-evident right of all men to "the pursuit of happiness," for I have read few accounts of such a pursuit as truthful and moving as hers.
    • W. H. Auden Introduction to Red Ribbon on a White Horse
  • For Mary Antin and another immigrant Jewish author, Anzia Yezierska, the sacrifices were costly but appeared warranted, the passports to professional success and American identities. Part of a generation bridging Yiddish culture and Yankee experience, Antin and Yezierska passionately described the struggles and changes within the immigrant Jewish family. More than half a century ago, the autobiographical Promised Land and the novel, Bread Givers, anticipated the concerns of such later authors as Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Norma Rosen and Joanne Greenberg.
    • Evelyn Avery, "Oh My 'Mishpocha'! Some Jewish Women Writers from Antin to Kaplan View the Family," Studies in American Jewish Literature 5 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 44-48
  • Anzia Yezierska, who told, in Yiddish-like english, stories of Jewish immigrants, especially women's struggles for love, freedom, and education. Of her work, she wrote: "It's not me-it's their cries-my own people-crying in me! Hannah Breineh, Shmendrek, they will not be stilled in me, till all America stops to listen."
    • Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz "Some Notes on Jewish Lesbian Identity" (Summer 1980-Winter 1981) in Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology
  • The multitude of Jewish options that existed before World War II are ones which most nonobservant U.S. Ashkenazi Jews are hardly familiar with, much less recognize...Before World War II many Yiddish-speaking European Jews were already rejecting observance and secularism. Eager to assimilate, they deliberately abandoned their Jewish language and culture. The well-known letters (Bintl Brif) of Der forverts (The Jewish Daily Forward), the thirties English stories of Anzia Yezierska, and the more modern forties and fifties Yiddish stories of Kadia Malodowsky describe this assimilation minutely.
    • Irena Klepfisz "Khaloymes/Dreams in Progress: Culture, Politics, and Jewish Identity" in Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribes (1990)
  • Immigrant life in general is miserable, as one sees in the literature produced by those who experienced the journey. In the Jewish novels of Abraham Cahan, Henry Roth, and Anzia Yezierska, the picture is frequently a grim one.
    • Ilan Stavans Introduction to Yiddish South of the Border: An Anthology of Latin American Yiddish Writing edited by Alan Astro (2003)
  • Immigrant writers of the early twentieth century were still addressing the artistic problem of how to bring Jewish experience to the American reader. Anzia Yezierska, a much more combative writer than Mary Antin, could never get beyond the story of how she left her immigrant home. Whereas Antin "made herself over" into a genteel writer and Cahan accommodated the English reader by treating Yiddish as a foreign language, Yezierska brought the immigrant streets to life by imitating their cacophony and fractured English. "My voice was like dynamite," boasts the ten-year-old herring salesman of Bread Givers. "Louder than all the pushcart peddlers, louder than all the hollering noises of bargaining and selling." Yezierska's resistance to genteel authority and to the humiliations of poverty bursts through the prose and hauls readers down to her level of cultural subsistence. But once her autobiographical heroines move out of their neighborhoods and into their new tailored suits, the author loses the Yiddish pungency that was her trademark.

Sydney Weinberg, The World of Our Mothers: : The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women (1988) edit

  • This tension between the desire to Americanize and the psychological hold of parents and their traditions has been best described in the novels of Anzia Yezierska. In six books published between 1920 and 1932, Yezierska wrote of the squalor of ghetto life and the constant struggle against dirt, poverty, and old-world family restrictions. Her works portray the longing of a young woman for freedom and beauty, personified by the non-Jewish world, and each one ends with the realization that the source of life lies in the world that was rejected. "All these years," she wrote in All I Could Never Be, "I have gone about a little bit ashamed of my manners, my background. I was so eager to acquire from the Gentiles their low voices, their calm, their poise, that I lost what I had-what I was.' The young woman in Children of Loneliness observes, "I can't live with the old world, and I'm yet too green for the new. Yezierska was not so much writing novels as she was autobiography, so her plots appear and reappear in scarcely changed form. She could tell no other story than her own, but she recorded that with a searing passion. The plot of Bread Givers, her most popular novel, she explained to producer Sam Goldwyn, "is the expiation of guilt. . . . I had to break away from my mother's cursing and my father's preaching to live my life: but without them I had no life. When you deny your parents, you deny the ground under your feet, the sky over your head. You become an outlaw, a pariah...And now, here I am-lost in chaos, wandering between worlds."
  • Daughters like Anzia Yezierska, who left home at seventeen seeking above all to become a "person," had longings alien to their parents, whose main concern was basic survival.
  • One young woman in Anzia Yezierska's short story, "Hunger," recalled, as her eyes grew misty, "How I suffered in Savel. I never had enough to eat. I never had shoes on my feet. I had to go barefoot even in the freezing winter. But still I love it. I was born there. I love the houses and the straw roofs, the mud streets, the cows, the chickens and the goats. My heart always hurts me for what is no more.'
  • In "The Fat of the Land," Anzia Yezierska describes an unfortunate woman whose children had prospered and insisted that she move away from Delancey Street to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But her Americanized children are strange to her, and she feels isolated amidst her new luxury and misses, above all, her old neighbors. "Uptown here," she tells a friend who comes to visit, "nobody cares if the person next door is dying or going crazy from loneliness. It ain't anything like we used to have in Delancey Street, when we could walk into one another's rooms without knocking, and borrow a pinch of salt or a pot to cook in."17 In friendship, there was comfort, and without it, women felt bereft.

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