I went looking for Edna Ferber last week in the most logical place — her hometown public library.
I figured I find her thriving there, just two and a half miles from Edna Ferber Elementary School.
Alas, I found the Ferber collection somewhat lacking. To be fair, I’d had some lofty expectations — a dedicated section, perhaps with a bust of the writer once called the greatest American woman novelist of her day.
I found a couple of books, minus her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, So Big (which I promptly ordered from the Algoma library). Come on, Appleton! You can name a school after Edna but you can’t read her work?
I’m not blaming the library; they stock what people read and I’m guessing Edna’s not showing up on a lot of book club lists. I know she’s not being taught in our schools.
But, I think Edna Ferber needs a champion and a lot more hometown love. So, I’m volunteering for the job.
For Pete’s sake, Harry Houdini gets a school, a restaurant, a walking trail, a whole plaza and a museum and he only lived in Appleton for a couple of years.
Where’s the Edna love?
Edna Ferber moved to Appleton when she was 12-years old. She graduated from Appleton High School, attended Lawrence University and worked for the Appleton Daily Crescent.
She’s an actual Appletonian and you can hear it in her written voice. While I waited for my copy of So Big to show up, I read Buttered Side Up, a collection of short stories.
I’m also familiar with the musical adaptation of her novel Showboat, and I’d love to see a local production of that play sometime. (Sidenote: There is an important difference between a work that is racist and one that exposes racism and I strongly defend Edna in that regard. In fact, I believe she was ahead of her time.)
An esteemed member of the Algonquin Round Table, a lunchtime group of New York writers and critics, Edna rolled with critics, writers, columnists, actors, playwrights, and novelists. She wrote constantly and she always remained true to herself, despite the criticism she faced.
“”I never have written with an eye to what is called the public, or the market, or the trend or the editor or the reviewer,” she wrote. “Good or bad, popular or unpopular, lasting or ephemeral, the words I have put down on paper were the best words I could summon at the time to express the thing I wanted more than anything else to say.”
I’ll be returning my copy of So Big this week (It’s a weird title and Edna and I both think it could have been much more appealing. Don’t let that deter you) and I think you should check it out.
I also think the AASD should be including Edna Ferber in its curriculum and I’d love to walk down the Edna Ferber trail sometime soon.
But, let’s start with the books. How about including So Big or Showboat or Giant on your next summer reading list.
What do you say?