Image of Edna Ferber


Lifetime: 1885 - 1968 Passed: ≈ 56 years ago


Novelist, Playwright


United States

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferberwas an American novelist, short story writer and playwright.  

Ferber was born August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a Hungarian-born Jewish storekeeper, Jacob Charles Ferber, and his Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born wife, Julia (Neumann) Ferber, who was of German Jewish descent. She moved often due to her father's business failures, likely caused by his early blindness. After living in Chicago, Illinois, she moved to Ottumwa, Iowa with her parents and older sister, Fannie, where they resided for 7 years (age 5 to 12 for Ferber). In Ottumwa, Ferber and her family faced brutal anti-Semitism, including adult males verbally abusing, mocking and spitting on her every day when she brought lunch to her father, often mocking her in a Yiddish accent. At the age of 12, Ferber and her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she graduated from high school and briefly attended Lawrence University.  


Initially going to study acting, Ferber abandoned these plans to help support her family at age 17. Forbidden to study elocution and on the spur of the moment, Ferber ended her higher education and dropped out of Lawrence, subsequently being hired at the Appleton Daily Crescent and eventually the Milwaukee Journal. She covered the 1920 Republican National Convention and 1920 Democratic National Convention for the United Press Association during her period as a reporter.  


When Ferber was recovering from anemia, her first short stories were compiled and published along with her first novel, Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed, in 1911.  


In 1925, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book So Big. Ferber initially believed her draft of what would become So Big lacked a plot, glorified failure, and had a subtle theme that could easily be overlooked. When she sent the book to her usual publisher, Doubleday, she was surprised to learn that he strongly enjoyed the novel. This was reflected by the several hundreds of thousands of copies of the novel sold to the public. Following the award, the novel was made into a silent film starring Colleen Moore that same year. An early talkie movie remake followed in 1932, starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent, with Bette Davis in a supporting role. A 1953 remake of So Big starring Jane Wyman is the most popular version to modern audiences.  


Riding the popularity of So Big, Ferber's next novel, Show Boat, was just as successful. Shortly after its release, composer Jerome Kern proposed turning it into a musical. Ferber was shocked, thinking it would be transformed into a typical light entertainment of the 1920s. It was not until Kern explained that he and Oscar Hammerstein II wanted to create a different type of musical that Ferber granted him the rights and it premiered on Broadway in 1927, and has been revived 8 times.  


Her 1952 novel, Giant, became the basis of the 1956 movie, starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.  


Ferber died at her home in New York City, of stomach cancer, at the age of 82. Ferber left her estate to her remaining female relatives, but gave the American government permission to spread her literary work to encourage and inspire future female authors. 

Books by Edna Ferber

Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed Cover image

Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed

Fiction Humour
Journalism Reporting

Dawn O’Hara, the Girl Who Laughed was Edna Ferber’s first novel. Dawn, a newspaperwoman working in New York, finds herself back home in Michigan on doctor’s orders. Years of living in boarding-houses and working to pay for the care of her brilliant b...

One Basket  Cover image

One Basket

Marriage Short Story Single Author Collections Humankind

This sparkling collection of 7 short stories by Ferber includes some that are considered her all time best like The Woman Who Tried To be Good and The Maternal Feminine. Writing for and about women, Edna Ferber touches the very heart and soul of what...

Fanny Herself  Cover image

Fanny Herself

Novel Biography
Twentieth Century Young Tolerance Religious Semi-autobiographical novel General Fiction

Fanny Herself is the story of Fanny Brandeis, a young girl coming of age in the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. It is generally considered to have been based on Ferber’s own experiences growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin.

So Big  Cover image

So Big

Fiction Novel
Family Love Young Money Art Life Wisdom Literary Fiction

The story follows the life of a young woman, Selina Peake De Jong, who decides to be a school teacher in farming country. During her stay on the Pool family farm, she encourages the young Roelf Pool to follow his interests, which include art. Upon hi...

Gigolo  Cover image


New York Young Dream Social Culture Wealth Ambition

The book tells the story of a young woman named Vicki, who leaves her hometown in search of a glamorous life in New York City. Once there, she meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming gigolo named Valentine Corliss. Set against the backd...

Show Boat Cover image

Show Boat

Drama Romance Struggle America Classics Relationships Ambition United States Complex

It is a timeless American novel that delves into the captivating world of show business. Written by Edna Ferber in 1926, this literary gem offers readers an immersive experience filled with drama, romance, and the complexities of human relationships....

Buttered Side Down Cover image

Buttered Side Down

"And so," the story writers used to say, "they lived happily ever after."Um-m-m—maybe. After the glamour had worn off, and the glass slippers were worn out, did the Prince never find Cinderella's manner redolent of the kitchen hearth; and was it neve...

Roast Beef, Medium Cover image

Roast Beef, Medium

This book follows the adventures of Emma McChesney, a smart and savvy divorced mother who travels the Midwest as a sales representative for a large skirt and petticoat manufacturer. Her many adventures with people, (including predatory salesmen and h...

Personality Plus Cover image

Personality Plus

Personality Plus is an early novel by American author Edna Ferber. Originally published in 1914, Personality Plus is the second of three volumes chronicling the travels and events in the life of Emma McChesney. Ferber achieved her first successes wit...

Emma McChesney and Company Cover image

Emma McChesney and Company

This is the final volume in the trilogy following the smart, stylish, divorced and independent businesswoman Emma McChesney in her career from stenographer, then drummer (traveling salesman) to owner of her own company. (The first was Roast Beef, Med...

Dancing Girls Cover image

Dancing Girls

The Dancing Girls is just one of the 4 excellent short stories in this recording. All written by the master, Edna Ferber for magazines between 1910 and 1919 they naturally contain her unique mix of real people, sadness, joy and always humor. The lead...

Homely Heroine Cover image

Homely Heroine

Who ever heard of a plain and downright homely heroine? Isn't a heroine by definition beautiful? Well, Edna Ferber, in her well known style that later produced Show Boat and Giant, tells us about just such a heroine in the first of these four special...