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Hortense Calisher, 1911-2009

Filed under: In Memoriam   Tagged: , , , ,

Benjamin Chambers writes:

Hortense Calisher, who published nine stories in The New Yorker between 1948 and 1956, died last month at 97. The AP wire story about her death describes her, rather unfairly, as being “known for her dense, unskimmable prose,” and then goes on—obscurely—to say that she “composed in the thick, quantum rhythms of the mind.”

A former president of PEN, and guest editor of Best American Short Stories, Calisher started her writing life late, and she was past 90 when her most recent book was published. Some links:

  • Calisher’s amusing short story, hardly dense or unskimmable (though who would want to?), “Il Ploe:r Da Mo Koetr,” from the September 8, 1956 issue of The New Yorker, in which the narrator, who learned a perfect French accent via phonetics in school, discovers years later that she cannot understand the language at all. (Features a classic scene in which Frenchmen solemnly toast each other with cries of “Pearl Buck!”)
  • Joyce Carol Oates’ thoughts on Calisher. Scroll down for in-depth reviews of two of Calisher’s novels, which sound quite fascinating.


Ben - Thanks for mentioning the phonetic-French story, I read it today - so funny. And indeed, far from being unskimmable, it’s so disciplined, it practically reads itself!

Jonathan - I completely agree. I’m really glad you liked it.

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