Hardwick, Elizabeth

Alternative names
Birth 1916-07-27
Death 2007-12-02

Biographical notes:

American novelist, essayist, and critic.

From the description of Papers, 1934-1991 (bulk 1960-1990). (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122530463

Born July 27, 1916, Elizabeth Hardwick grew up with ten brothers and sisters in Lexington, Kentucky. She attended local schools, and received a master's degree in English from the University of Kentucky in 1939. Shortly thereafter, Hardwick moved to New York, and began classes at Columbia University, where she would matriculate for the next two years.

The contrast between life in Kentucky and in New York inspired Hardwick to write her first novel, The Ghostly Lover, which was published in 1945. The plot focused on the emotional development of a southern women who has moved to New York, which she adopts as her home. Hardwick received critical attention for her talented prose style, as well as her descriptions of people and places.

After the book was published, Philip Rahv, an editor of the Partisan Review, asked Hardwick to become a contributor. Her appearance in this journal marked the beginning of a long career in literary and social criticism. She went on to publish well-received essays in Partisan Review, The New Republic, and Harper's . In 1947, Hardwick won a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction.

Two years later, Hardwick met and married the poet Robert Lowell. They spent the next decade traveling in Europe and moving around the United States where Lowell taught poetry at the University of Iowa, the University of Indiana, and the University of Cincinnati. In 1954, they settled in Boston, where they would remain for the next six years. While in Boston, Hardwick published a second novel, The Simple Truth, in 1955, and gave birth in 1957 to her only child, Harriet Lowell.

The Lowells returned to Manhattan in 1960, and Hardwick began editing a compilation of letters by William James, which was published the next year. In 1963, a printer's strike shut down the book review offices of The New York Times and the Herald Tribune . Hardwick, who had long bemoaned the state of book reviewing in the United States, met with a group of friends to found the New York Review of Books . The NYRB became one of the most controversial and intellectually challenging journals in the United States, and Hardwick served as an advisory editor since its founding.

Hardwick continued to publish critical essays throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was the first woman to win the George Jean Nathan Award for outstanding drama criticism in 1967. Many of her essays were compiled and published in book form in A view of My Own: Essays on Literature and Society (1962), Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature (1974), and Bartleby in Manhattan (1986).

Hardwick's third novel, Sleepless Nights, was published in 1979. Its semi-autobiographical nature, focusing on the reminiscences of a woman named Elizabeth, received almost unanimous critical acclaim. Sleepless Nights was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980.

Hardwick continued to be an influential literary and social commentator. Anne Tyler wrote of her, “Whatever her subject, Hardwick has a gift for coming up with descriptions so thoughtfully selected, so exactly right, that they strike the reader as inevitable.” Hardwick died in Manhattan on December 2, 2007, at the age of ninety-one.

From the guide to the Elizabeth Hardwick Papers TXRC93-A46., 1934-1991, (Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin)


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  • American fiction--Film adaptations
  • American fiction--Women writers
  • Literature--History and criticism
  • American fiction--20th century


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