The Real “Spirit of St. Louis”

…and, no this is not about a plane.

(We promised we would get back to Fannie Hurst and a Renegade never breaks a promise.)

Born of Jewish heritage to a successful businessman in Hamilton, Ohio in 1889, Fannie Hurst was a born author. Hurst was raised in St. Louis, spending her childhood and teenage years in the city. She attended local public school, graduated from Central High School and went on to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis in 1909.

While in college, Hurst published her first story “The Joy of Living” in The Mirror and knew she preferred “writing about life.” In 1914, another St. Louis lady, Anne Johnson, self-published a book she called Notable St. Louis Women. In the book, Johnson featured the young, but promising Hurst.

Here is the photo of Hurst from Notable St. Louis Women:

                                       I need to find a coat with a collar like that...

                                       I need to find a coat with a collar like that...

Of Hurst’s writing, Johnson wrote that she prefers “going about and getting in touch with the phases of life of which she writes is the most immediate means and naturally best.”

(No one ever said lady Anne Johnson was a poet.)

After college, Hurst moved to New York to pursue writing, despite her parents’ disapproval.

(THE HORROR!...but really, that’s pretty renegade.)

There, she pursued graduate work in literature at Columbia and continued her “life” writing theme.

Within her first year in New York, Hurst made $30 per story selling to Smith’s Magazine, ultimately receiving upwards of $800-1,000 per story in her later years of writing. In 1933, Hurst published the controversial Imitation of Life, making her a national star as it was adapted as a screenplay and made into a major motion picture in 1934 and again in 1959.

Grab some popcorn and watch the movie trailer for the 1934 version:

Whoops. The trailer is only a minute long. Hope you ate that popcorn fast because it's time for a homework assignment: Go research Imitation of Life and learn about why it might have been so controversial.

Back to Hurst: She continued to “study people” throughout her life’s works. Take for instance her writing on St. Louis history.

Here she provides a look at 1950s St. Louis landscape and community:

This excerpt was published in Lee Ann Sandweiss’ Seeking St. Louis, but first appeared as an article in the St. Louis Globe Democrat in 1955, and appeared again later in American Mercury magazine.

Hurst became known for challenging traditional gender roles and for celebrating working-class women and their need for opportunity, justice, and fair treatment. Throughout her life she published 17 novels, 9 books of short stories, and 3 plays. In all, 29 screen adaptations of her published work were turned into motion picture films.

Thanks for making us all look bad, Hurst. (Just kidding—we love her.)

Wanna Know More?

Read Imitation of Life and watch both versions of the move. (That was an official “visit your local library” plug.)

Anne Andre Johnson’s Notable Women of St. Louis: 1914. (It is generally agreed at the Renegade offices that this book will blow your friggin mind) Hurst is featured on pages 106-109, but if you read the other pages and you might just learn something else about St. Louis ladies! It's available for check out at the Saint Louis University library.

Lee Ann Sandweiss edited Seeking St. Louis: Voices from a River City 1670-2000 and featured the writing of Hurst and other literary-minded St. Louisans.

Carla Kaplan has a chapter, “Imitation of Life: Fannie Hurst’s ‘Sensation in Harlem’” in her book Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance. This book is BRILLIANT. Kaplan explores many women of Harlem, but this chapter places particular focus on Fannie Hurst. While this part of Hurst’s story does not take place in St. Louis, a reader interested in Hurst’s life and career will be interested in this book’s particular attention to her life, career, and notable influences.