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Anzia Yezierska

Date of Birth: 1885Date of Death: 1970Anzia Yezierska, the youngest of nine children, was born into poverty circa 1885 in Russian Poland. Her family immigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan around 1892. Immigration officials used the oldest child's name, Mayer, as the last name of the family and switched Anzia's name to Harriet, and so she became Hattie Mayer. After attending elementary school in the United States for only two years, Yezierska started working by selling homemade paper bags, sewing buttons, and rolling cigars. Later she worked in sweatshops and laundries. Yezierska quarreled often with her father, who devoted all of his time to Talmudic study and traditional ideas. Largely due to this, she left home in 1899 and rented a room at the Clara de Hisch Home for Working Girls.Yezierska won a scholarship to Teacher's College, part of Columbia University in 1901. During college, she had to work in a laundry to pay for expenses not covered in the scholarship. She had little interest in domestic studies, for which her scholarship was granted, and she felt inferior to the American students at the school. She graduated in 1905 as a cooking teacher, but she did not remain a teacher for long because she disliked it intensely.Yezierska married Jacob Gordon, but she left him the day after the ceremony. The marriage was annulled after six months, because she had refused to consummate it. Later that year she married Arnold Levitas, but the two quarreled often over money and housework. Levitas wanted Yezierska to play the role of the traditional wife, but Yezierska rejected being inferior to her husband. She became pregnant in 1912 and went to live with her sister on the West Coast, where she came to think of herself as a spokesperson for Jewish immigrants. Although she took a job as a social worker for Hebrew Charities in San Francisco, Yezierska was unable to support her daughter as a single mother and was forced to send her to live with her father.She did not begin creative writing until 1913, when she was about 28, but she published her first story two years later in Forum Magazine. Yezierska returned to the east in 1917 but could only find part-time teaching jobs. Fearing that she was a victim of class prejudice, she went to John Dewey, the dean of Teacher's College, for help. He encouraged her to write, allowing her to attend his graduate seminar and hiring her as a translator for a project. There was romantic interest between the two, which he ended by taking a three year lecture tour in the Far East. Characters like Dewey appear in many pieces of Yezierska's writing.Yezierska's story, "The Fat of the Land," was called the best story of 1919 by Edward O'Brien. Hollywood offered $10,000 for the movie rights to the film, and Yezierska went to California, but she refused to sign the three year contract. A fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in 1929 allowed her to continue writing. Returning to New York, Yezierska became impoverished once again during the depression, and so she was able to join the New York Work Projects Administration Writers Project. In addition to short stories and novels, Yezierska wrote book reviews for the New York Times. She wrote her autobiography in 1950 and died forgotten in 1970.



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But that morning, I had refused to do it any more. It made me feel like a beggar and thief when anybody saw me.

“I’d sooner go to work in a shop,” I cried.

“Who’ll give you work when you’re so thin and small, like a dried-out herring!”

“But I’m not going to let them look down on me like dirt, picking people’s ashes.” And I cried and cried so, that Mother couldn’t make me do it
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And so, since men were the only people who counted with God, Father not only had the best room for himself, for his study and prayers, but also the best eating of the house. The fat from the soup and the top from the milk went always to him
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When she begins to want a thing, there is no rest, no let-up till she gets it. It wills itself in you to play
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