Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Edna who? April 25, 2014

Edna Ferber portrait displayed at the History Museum at the Castle.

Edna Ferber portrait, photographed from a display at the History Museum at the Castle.


Do you know?

I should. I’m a writer.

But I didn’t. Although now I do.

Thanks to an exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, followed by additional online research, I now know some basic facts about this Pulitzer Prize winning author. In 1925, Ferber won a Pulitzer for her novel, So Big. Set in turn-of-the-century Chicago, the book tells the story of widowed Selina DeJong and her struggles to support herself and her son. That novel is now on my must-read list.

I think I would appreciate the writing of a woman “hailed for sensitively portraying working Americans, for calling attention to women’s roles in American history, and for writing with a journalist’s knack for precise vocabulary and vivid description,” according to info posted in the museum exhibit.

She sounds like one strong woman.

At age 17, Ferber became the first woman reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent. Seventeen. Her work as editor of her Appleton high school newspaper apparently impressed the Crescent editor.

Over a 50-year span, this prolific writer would pen a dozen novels, 11 short story collections, six major plays and two autobiographies.


Her best known works include Show Boat, made into the celebrated musical in 1927; Cimarron, adapted into the 1931 film which won an Academy Award for Best Picture; Giant, a 1956 Hollywood movie; and that Pulitzer novel, So Big.

According to info on the History Museum at the Castle website, Ferber is known for her “wit and perspectives on growing up in a small Midwestern town.”

Now that I can really appreciate.

READERS, have any of you read Ferber’s work or seen the films inspired by her writing?

Click here to read Ferber’s biography published on the Appleton Public Library website.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer, too.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. Like Ferber, I don't write my stories on paper.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. In this quote from Ferber, today I’d replace “computer” with “typewriter” when referencing my writing.

CLICK HERE to read a previous post about a Wisconsin food exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle. And check back for more posts from Wisconsin, coming soon.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


34 Responses to “Edna who?”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    She was one of the authors on my senior high school reading list. I have seen the movie version of “Show Boat” and the stage version (St. Paul Ordway several years ago) and “Giant” was on TBS quite a while back. I have not read “So Big”, though but will order it from the Houston library. Sounds like an awesome book.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Very busy and accomplished lady.

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    I have never heard of her before and she sounds like an amazing person! Thanks for opening my eyes today!

  4. Emily Grace Says:

    Thanks for this highlight. I’m going to see what my library has of hers!

  5. Allan Says:

    Giant is one of my favorite movies, although reading the book Giant, will tell you all the untold events that the movie does not include and explain. Read the book first, then see the movie and you will know what I mean. On the “Giant” web site, you will see excellent photos of Edna Ferber on the set. James Dean is teaching her how to lasso with a rope in one photo. I would say Giant was by far her biggest seller. James Dean was one of my favorite actors, and sadly this was his 3 and last movie. On September 30th he was killed in his in an auto accident. His passion was driving Porches, which caught my attention at an early age. I have owned two new Porches, a 914 and a 924. Now you know why I love sporty automobiles!!

    • Allan, you are always a wealth of information. Nice to hear from you again. It’s been awhile.

      • Allan Says:

        After reading my post, I should have proofread it first! I can not believe all the typos I made, and this from a writer? Put me in the corner with a dunce hat; and to think that English was one of my favorite subjects!

      • No dunce hat for you. Perhaps a dunce hat for me. I typically correct obvious errors in comments. But I’m a bit overtired today and not on my game. I’ll accept your comments, errors and all.

  6. I LOVE Learning New! Things – she sounds like a women I would love to have met – have to check out her writing 🙂 I have seen the Show Boat production, but was not aware of who wrote it. My dad has probably watched Cimmaron and Giant has some well known actors and actresses in it (have to put it on my to watch list). Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Weekend!

  7. Jackie Says:

    Wow quite an accomplished woman, I have not read nor seen any of her work. I may have to look into her book for a future read 🙂

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a lovely tribute to a great talent and thank you for bringing awareness to this amazingly talented lady. I’ve definitely heard of ‘The Giant’ as that starred James Dean and I think he was tragically killed before the film was released? Anyway, as an aside, my grandmother was called ‘Edna’. It’s not a popular name these days but I’m fond of it anyway xx

  9. Well, my goodness, you’d think I’d have heard of her with all those books that have been made into major movies. I’ll have to see if they have any of her books at our library.

  10. Emily B Says:

    News to me! Both her work and herself sound wonderful. Thanks for pointing me in her direction, Audrey! You’ll have to let us know when you read So Big and what you think of it.

  11. Sue Ready Says:

    Interesting informative blog-thanks

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