Born in New York City, New York and a graduate of Hunter College High School (1928) and Barnard College (1932), Calisher was the daughter of a young German immigrant and an older father from a Southern family she described as "volcanic to meditative to fruitfully dull, and bound to produce someone interested in character, society, and time".
She died at the age of 97 on January 13, 2009, in Manhattan.
Calisher involved her closely investigated, penetrating characters in complicated plotlines that unfold with shocks and surprises in allusive, nuanced language with a distinctively elegiac voice, sometimes compared with Eudora Welty, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Henry James. Critics generally considered Calisher a type of neo-realist and often both condemned and praised for her extensive explorations of characters and their social worlds. She was definitely at odds with the prevailing writing style of minimalism that characterized fiction writing in the 1970s and 1980s and that emphasized a sparse, non-romantic style with no room for expressionism or romanticism. As an anti-minimalist, Calisher was admired for her elliptical style in which more is hinted at than stated, and she was also praised as a social realist and critic in the vein of Honore Balzac and Edith Wharton.
Honors and awards
A past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of PEN, the worldwide association of writers, she was a National Book Award finalist three times and has won an O. Henry Award (for "The Night Club in the Woods") and the 1986 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (for The Bobby Soxer) as well as being awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1952 and 1955.