Hortense Calisher

American novelist, short story writer, and memoirist (1911-2009)

Hortense Calisher (December 20, 1911January 13, 2009) was an American novelist.

Quotes edit

  • A happy childhood can't be cured. Mine'll hang around my neck like a rainbow, that's all, instead of a noose.
    • Queenie, 1971.

Interview with The Paris Review (1987) edit

  • what I have written—and how I came to write it—is most powerfully what I am.
  • out in what I knew damn well was the real world—of literature and everything else—my agony was how to begin. (How do you?) You begin. (What had held you back?) Fear.
  • I think such middle-class backgrounds, where the bourgeois only sniffs at art or intellect, often produce artists. A child born to them smells the difference—as I did.
  • I don’t think artists can compete—except as to money and prizes, and, of course, status. Which may be temporary. But not on the page. Or the canvas or the stone. Or the musical score. All you can hope to be is worthy of the company you respect.
  • I couldn’t write those first stories about them until they were all dead. That’s when I began. (It was an unusual family.) Well, I’d paraphrase Tolstoy: All families are. All people too, probably; all places. That’s in part what sends me to writing stories—to balance out the usual and the unusual in the life I see.
  • As for complication—or complexity—it excites me.
  • (You graduated when you were seventeen, and shortly left the household to work and live on your own. Yet you weren’t to publish for twenty years. How come? Still fear?) HC: Not really. Circumstance. First off, I came out into the great world. Of the Depression, then. I’d already worked in department stores. That’s a very instructive milieu—of what I call “business dreams” and artificiality all mixed. But then I was plunged into the starvation world. The word poverty doesn’t say it hard enough. As a welfare visitor—investigator, they called us—I saw homes, heard tales that still make me shiver. The whole seamy side of the happy U.S. It changed my life. As it would one day haunt what I wrote.
  • I know by now that I don’t care to be an accepted habitué of any one world. That’s part of being a writer too. Wanting out. From the role-playing. Except on the page.
  • That’s the wonder of the English language. That its words can alternate between rough and soft, harsh and sweet. And, best of all maybe, short and long.
  • When we test out our own insights on how other people might feel, the testing ground is ourselves. Our views on anything from politics to landscape are tinctured with our personality.
  • I grew up, you know, in a generation of war novels and macho—Hemingway’s being the most prominent.
  • But you are a feminist, aren’t you? HC: Born. But not orthodox. And the writer part comes first. I’d never write propaganda.
  • Motherhood has no firm curriculum, but it can make you mechanically minded, and it can connect you firmly to physical life.
  • The subject dictates the approach. I don’t consult with myself beforehand. It happens.
  • At their best they’re our moral health—and our hope.
    • about young people
  • I think of myself as a person—after that as a woman. If one doesn’t, one narrows oneself. And the world...I think it’s ultimately foolish of us to resegregate ourselves. The strengths of sisterhood are possible without that. And the work itself can be as much from the dower of what we are as women as we want it to be.
  • I am more interested in wars of the mind.
  • I think you write better about women if you don’t write about women exclusively. As with any subject.
  • I don’t want the critic head taking over, as it quickly can. But it can be instructive. I discover what I think about literature. And critique by other writers is the best literary talk.
  • I think all artists, even the great ones, are combinations of arrogance and innocence. As life goes on we may lose one or the other in some proportion. To function best one must have both. Once I began to write, though, I learned that the ambition can only phrase itself in the book. There’s such an enormous difference in the writer being, and the writer doing.
  • (What’s the sensation of writing?) HC: A sense of power and surprise when it’s going well. But always obsessive hope, as you pace an almost familiar terrain. (Surprise at what?) HC: At what can happen under your hand. When the whole becomes greater than the parts. But the real surprise is afterward. When I see that the book has made its own rules. Each one in the end makes its own form.
  • American critics and scholars don’t emendate writers who are women—until we’re well dead. Generally speaking, the pejorative for a woman who writes complexly is “obscure.” A man who is “obscure” however, may well be “profound” and merit interpretation.
  • The page isn’t all of my life. It’s what I offer from it.

Quotes about Hortense Calisher edit

  • We also organized Vietnamese Life. Vietnamese Life was like a teach-in through artists and writers. Everybody did something that would teach about Vietnamese life. Wally Zuckerman, who used to make harpsichords in the Village, did a Vietnamese forest symphony. Writers like Hortense Calisher read Vietnamese stories. [Avant-garde playwright] Maria Irena Fornes did The Vietnamese Wedding, which later became a play.

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about: