Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 1 line drawing Published: December 2004

Author: Fannie Hurst

Editor: Daniel Itzkovitz

Contributor: Daniel Itzkovitz

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction, Media Studies > Film

A bestseller in 1933, and subsequently adapted into two beloved and controversial films, Imitation of Life has played a vital role in ongoing conversations about race, femininity, and the American Dream. Bea Pullman, a white single mother, and her African American maid, Delilah Johnston, also a single mother, rear their daughters together and become business partners. Combining Bea’s business savvy with Delilah’s irresistible southern recipes, they build an Aunt Jemima-like waffle business and an international restaurant empire. Yet their public success brings them little happiness. Bea is torn between her responsibilities as a businesswoman and those of a mother; Delilah is devastated when her light-skinned daughter, Peola, moves away to pass as white. Imitation of Life struck a chord in the 1930s, and it continues to resonate powerfully today.

The author of numerous bestselling novels, a masterful short story writer, and an outspoken social activist, Fannie Hurst was a major celebrity in the first half of the twentieth century. Daniel Itzkovitz’s introduction situates Imitation of Life in its literary, biographical, and cultural contexts, addressing such topics as the debates over the novel and films, the role of Hurst’s one-time secretary and great friend Zora Neale Hurston in the novel’s development, and the response to the novel by Hurst’s friend Langston Hughes, whose one-act satire, “Limitations of Life” (which reverses the races of Bea and Delilah), played to a raucous Harlem crowd in the late 1930s. This edition brings a classic of popular American literature back into print.


“Many of the classic women’s melodramas produced in Holly wood studios were adapted form best sellers written by women. The male directors who specialized in this lowly genre have been elevated to the movie canon and their movies are widely accessible through theatrical screenings, video rentals, and DVD sales, but the female authors have been forgotten and their works have been long out of print. . . . Finally, after 50 years of neglect, the tide appears to be turning.” — Freda Freiberg , Screening the Past

"As Daniel Itzkovitz speculates in his incisive introduction to the reissue, Hurst may have been more comfortable exploring her relationship to her own Jewish identity through black characters such as Peola; her childhood shame over be in Jewish closely resembles Peola's over being black. . . . Hurst should be remembered as a Great American Storyteller, and one who did extraordinary things with the form." — Kate Bolick ,

“Although it’s a ‘white’ novel, Imitation of Life is certainly a part of the African American canon. No film was more important to me as a ‘colored’ child growing up in West Virginia; the funeral scene has to move even the most stoic viewer to tears. Now this new edition of the novel brings this richly layered story back into public view, where it will, I hope, remain.” — Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University

“Daniel Itzkovitz’s brilliant edition of Imitation of Life places this controversial novel at the center of U.S. literary, cinematic, and social history. Fannie Hurst’s novel deserves to be read in its own right, but here its importance as a register of white anxieties about the ethics of American racism and of consumer fantasies for overcoming the particular body are also showcased richly.” — Lauren Berlant, author of The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship

“This new edition of an influential American classic—one of the first books in twentieth-century popular literature to grapple with issues of gender and race—is reason enough to celebrate, but Daniel Itzkovitz’s splendid and insightful introduction reclaims for Fannie Hurst a preeminent position as an essential American literary figure whose work matters today more than ever.” — Michael Bronski, author of The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Fannie Hurst (1889–1968) was a popular writer of many novels and short stories. Among her best-known works are Back Street (1930) and Lummox (1923).

Daniel Itzkovitz is Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. He is a coeditor of Queer Theory and the Jewish Question.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Daniel Itzkovitz vii

Imitation of Life 1

Notes 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3324-1
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