|Born / Died||1898–1993|
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Zelda Popkin (1898 – 1983) was one of the earliest authors to build a series of books around a female sleuth. In five novels published between 1938 and 1941, she featured department store detective Mary Carner, a proto-feminist whose husband remains at home caring for the couple’s child while she is out solving cases. Additionally, Popkin also published The Journey Home, (Lippincott, 1945), a semi-autobiographical novel about survivors of a train wreck, Small Victory (Lippincott, 1947), one of the earliest American novels to deal with the Holocaust, and Quiet Street (Lippincott, 1951), reportedly the first novel by an American to deal with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Born on July 5, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York, Zelda Feinberg was the daughter of Harry and Anna (Glass) Feinberg. After a childhood spent in New Jersey,Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, she began her literary career as the first female general-assignment reporter for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in 1914. After two years, she headed to New York City and enrolled at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, which she attended for two years. In 1919, she married Louis Popkin, and together the couple founded a public relations firm which they jointly operated until his death in 1943.
A mere eight months after her husband died in January 1943, Popkin herself faced a near tragedy. She was a passenger on the Congressional Limited, a train that ran between Washington, DC and New York City, when it derailed just outside Philadelphia on Labor Day weekend, killing 79 passengers and injuring more than 100 others. Two years later, she used the incident as a backdrop in her novel The Journey Home . The book received mostly positive reviews (one dissenting opinion was voiced by Saul Bellow in Commentary ) and went on to sell over one million copies.
At the time of its publication, Popkin had just concluded a stint doing public relations for the American Joint Distribution Committee and had begun tenure as a special representative of the American Red Cross in Europe. In the latter capacity, she visited displaced persons’ camps. Once again, Popkin used her observations in her fiction. Small Victory was one of the earliest American novels to include mention of the Holocaust. Her next novel, Walk Through the Valley (Lippincott, 1949), was also semi-autobiographical, dealing with a woman who must make a new life for herself following the unexpected death of her husband. A visit to the newly created state of Israel in 1948 led to Quiet Street, focusing on one family during the Israel war for independence.
In 1956, Popkin published the autobiography, Open Every Door (Dutton). Over the next several years, she worked in public relations for philanthropic organizations like the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and the American Friends of the Hebrew University in New York City. Between 1968 and 1975, she published three additional novels, Herman Had Two Daughters (Lippincott, 1968), about Jewish life in early 20th-century small town America, A Death of Innocence ( Lippincott, 1971), about a mother who comes to doubt the innocence of her daughter accused of a violent crime, and Dear Once (Lippincott, 1975), also about Jewish life in America.
As infirmities and old age encroached, Popkin was forced to give up writing. She died of a heart attack on May 25, 1983 in Silver Spring, Maryland, survived by her two sons, Richard and Roy, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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