Best known now for the movies made from her books, Edna Ferber was one of the best-selling and most prolific writers of her era.
Ferber wasn’t born in Wisconsin but she graduated high school in Appleton and got her first writing job, as a newspaper journalist, in Appleton and then Milwaukee.
Writing wasn’t Ferber’s initial goal. She wanted to be an actor and got the newspaper job to raise money to fund her training. But she soon began writing stories and gained tremendous popularity for a series of stories featuring a traveling saleswoman named Emma McChesney.
Despite their popularity, though, Ferber began to feel that these stories weren’t allowing her to grow as a writer so she turned to writing novels. She achieved her first great success with the novel “So Big,” which tells the story of a widowed mother’s struggle to forge a better a life for herself and her son. It doesn’t sound that innovative until you consider that she wrote frankly and openly about sexism and poverty in 1924. The novel won her a Pulitzer Prize.
The next year, Ferber wrote her best-known novel, “Show Boat,” which was later adapted in a musical. Many of her works made it to the movie screen as well, including “Show Boat” and her later novels “Giant,” “Cimarron,” and “Ice Palace.” Her works made her the most read American woman in the 1920s.
Ferber was disciplined and prolific, claiming that once a book had been started, nothing but death could separate her from it: “Clothes are unimportant. Teeth go unfilled. Your idea of bliss is to wake up on a Monday morning knowing that you haven’t a single engagement for the entire week. You are cradled in a white paper cocoon tied up with typewriter ribbon.”