Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on August 15, 1887. Due to her father's poor business sense and the anti-Semitism of their neighbors, the Ferbers moved frequently around the Midwest. After graduating from high school in Appleton, Wisconsin, Ferber worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the Appleton Daily Crescent, then for the Milwaukee Journal. After suffering a nervous collapse, she returned home to Wisconsin where, during her recovery, she began to devote her energies to writing fiction.
Ferber's first short story, The Homely Heroine, appeared in Everybody's Magazine in 1910. Three collections of her stories, Roast Beef Medium (1913), Personality Plus (1914), and Emma McChesney and Company (1915), centered around the "new woman" character of Emma McChesney, a divorced, working mother. Although she refused to write any more McChesney stories after the 1915 collection, Ferber continued to publish short stories throughout her life, often as a respite from her longer novels. Other collections include Mother Knows Best (1927) and One Basket (1947).
After abandoning the McChesney stories, Ferber directed her attention toward writing novels. She had published her first novel, Dawn O'Hara, in 1911, but her first critically acclaimed work was The Girls (1921). She won the Pulitzer prize in 1925 for So Big (1924). Many of her books have achieved lasting fame in other mediums. Her novel Show Boat (1926) was adapted into the popular musical by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, and Cimarron (1930) and Giant (1952) were both made into films. In addition to writing novels, Ferber collaborated with playwright George S. Kaufman on six dramas, including The Royal Family (1928), Dinner at Eight (1936), and Stage Door (1936). She also wrote two autobiographies: A Peculiar Treasure (1939) and A Kind of Magic (1963).
During her professional life, Ferber alternated between residences in Chicago and New York City. By the 1930s, Ferber lived primarily in New York, where she was a member of the Algonquin Round Table group. She died of cancer on April 17, 1968.
"Edna Ferber." Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol 93. Detroit: Gale Research Co, 1996.
Ferber, Edna. A Peculiar Treasure. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1939.
"Flora Mae Holly, Literary Agent" New York Times, 20 Nov., 1960: 86.
Reed, Paula. "Edna Ferber" American Novelists, 1910-1945. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol 9. Ed. James Martine. Detroit: Gale Research Co, 1981.
Typed and signed letter from Edna Ferber to Dr. Collins, reflecting on the subject of literary prizes, dated January 4, 1929. Mainly opining that literary prizes are futile as "[i]t seems to be that a story or novel or play or biography actually worthy of a twenty-five thousand dollar prize would have been written anyway," she continues on to state, "[m]any writers writer for a living, too. But they could earn a living another way, if they put the same fury into it. No, we write, most of us, because we have to; because there is something we have to say; something inside that must [come] out."