American novelist Fannie Hurst, born in Ohio on October 19, 1889, grew up in St. Louis and attended WU. She graduated with her B.A. in 1909. During her time at the University, Hurst was heavily involved with theatrical life on campus. After the beginning of the dramatic club Thyrsus in 1907, Hurst participated in many of its plays. In 1909, she wrote the book and lyrics for a senior class play entitled The Official Chaperone.
Leaving WU, Hurst continued on to graduate studies at Columbia University. Her writing career began to take off in 1914, when she started writing short stories for popular magazines. Later, she wrote multiple novels, including Stardust and Imitation of Life.
Thirty of her works were turned into films—the 1934 adaptation of Imitation of Life was nominated for three Academy Awards. Most of her works are out-of-print today, but are available from the WU Libraries. Nonetheless, during her lifetime many were best-sellers and appeared in multiple languages.
Unfortunately, Hurst’s writing found less success with critics than with the public. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work This Side of Paradise, a character discussing literature places Hurst among a number of authors “not producing among ’em one story or novel that will last 10 years.”
Hurst was not only a literary figure but was also active as a philanthropist and in civic affairs. She participated in the Urban League, hosted a talk show called ‘Showcase’ in New York in the late 1950s, and was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and one-time employer and friend of Zora Neale Hurston, the well-known novelist of the Harlem Renaissance.
When Hurst died in 1968, WU received a large bequest from her estate, part of which was used to create the Hurst Professorship for Visiting Writers in the Department of English.
The Manuscripts unit of Special Collections holds Hurst’s correspondence, as well as novel manuscript, diary materials, Hurst’s personal collection of her published work, and various memorabilia. These are available to students, scholars, and researchers at Olin Library in Special Collections.
For more about Fannie Hurst, and other notable Alumnus of the University, see the Online Exhibit: A Celebration of Women at Washington University.