Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.
After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't -- but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.
Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for The New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence -- "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces -- love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.
Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers -- including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).
Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA.
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Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale(1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).
Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.
Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.
Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.
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In the fall of 2003, Alice Hoffman took some time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What were the books that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Edward Eager's brilliant series of suburban magic: Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Magic or Not, Knight's Castle, The Time Garden, Seven-Day Magic, The Well Wishers.
Anything by Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, J. D. Salinger, Grace Paley.
My favorite book: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Farenheight 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Grace Paley's The Collected Stories
We Have always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Grimm's fairy tales
Half Magic by Edward Eager
All are beautiful, essential, single voices. I love them all.
What are some of your favorite films?It's a Wonderful Life
Bell, Book and Candle
The Philadelphia Story
Anything with Jimmy Stewart
The Fifth Element
Arsenic and Old Lace
Anything with Cary Grant
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?Bob Dylan
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
All the books we read as children, moving up in time.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Journals, the smaller the better. Atlases, star charts, photography books.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
On my desk: Photos of dogs, photos of kids, photos of dogs that have passed on, rocks, stones, roses. The major ritual -- close the door.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I was helped enormously by the kindness of my mentor, Albert Guerard and my agent of thirty years, Elaine Markson. All luck, all kindness. Including my first rejection note, sent by Esquire when I was sixteen -- hand-written, taking me seriously, and telling me to send another story when I grew up. I intend to.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
Someone who sounds like no one else on earth; someone who doesn't know what the word irony means, or doesn't care. Someone who's fearless.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Discover yourself -- that's all there is.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Alice Hoffman had to say:
Anything written by Edward Eager -- my favorite childrens' book author -- even better if you have a child to read to. Start with Half Magic and finish with Magic By the Lake -- they are lazy summer magic books. The best.
Anything by Anne Tyler -- The Amateur Marriage is wonderful, but so are the early works -- especially Celestial Navigation. You fall into her world heartfirst.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- Time alone, iced tea, and Fitzgerald. Perfect.
Jill McCorkle's Ferris Beach and July 7th -- Heartbreaking, heartwarming, southern and hot.
Anything by Anita Shreve, especially Fortune's Rocks or Sea Glass -- novels that create worlds of the drowning and the saved.
Edgar Allan Poe's collected short stories -- The shivers on hot days, all brilliant.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë -- My favorite novel of all time, always on my list when there's time to re-read the most brilliant psychological fiction ever written. I read it again last summer before writing a new introduction and was once again amazed.
The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll -- Perfect to read on lawns, in boats, at picnics, down rabbit holes.
Richard Brautigan -- especially The Abortion and Trout Fishing in America. Here is someone who should not be forgotten, a man of his times, but worth remembering that he was an original.
Charles de Lint -- The master of urban fantasy -- I especially love his stories, like the ones in Moonlight and Vines. A Charles de Lint book, lemonade, fireflies, maybe a hammock -- what more could anyone want on a July evening?
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|Alice Hoffman Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
|Alice Hoffman Movies
Signed, First Editions by Alice Hoffman|
|Property Of, 1977|
|The Drowning Season, 1979|
|Angel Landing, 1980|
|White Horses, 1982|
|Fortune's Daughter, 1985|
|Illumination Night, 1987|
|At Risk, 1988|
|Seventh Heaven, 1990|
|Turtle Moon, 1993|
|Second Nature, 1994|
|Practical Magic, 1995|
|Here on Earth, 1997|
|Fireflies: A Winter Tale, 1997|
|Local Girls, 1999|
|The River King, 2001|
|Blue Diary, 2001|
|The Probable Future, 2003|
|Blackbird House, 2004|
|The Ice Queen, 2005|
|Skylight Confessions, 2007|