Michener Art Museum

Josephine Herbst

FICTION WRITER, NONFICTION WRITER
BORN: March 5, 1897, Sioux City, Iowa
DIED: January 28, 1969, New York, New York


[Josephine Herbst] had the knack of being in the significant place at the crucial moment, and of being on a footing of comradely equality with many of the most important figures of the day.-Henry Swados

Not only was Josephine Herbst acquainted with several major authors of her day; she was also revered by them. Her achievements during the 1930s set her apart from most other female writers at the time, for she was one of the few women reporting on the Spanish Civil War from the frontline and, moreover, she was one of the few female novelists regarded on a par with Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald. A prolific and versatile author, Josephine Herbst wrote fiction, criticism, novels, magazine and newspaper columns, biographies, and memoirs. Her literary career began in 1920, when she was hired by H.L. Mencken to read for Smart Set, a popular magazine of the day. As Herbst became involved in left-wing causes during the 1930s her writing grew more political, earning her a reputation as an anarchist, which harmed her during the McCarthyism of the 1950s. As a mature author during the 1950s and 1960s, Herbst drew around her a circle of young writers, including Jean Garrigue, her life partner, as well as Saul Bellow, Alfred Kazin, and John Cheever.