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Name Rossner, Judith
Born / Died 1935–2005

The Judith Rossner collection includes manuscripts and other items.

Manuscripts by Rossner in the collection include To The Precipice (William Morrow, 1966); Any Minute I Can Split (Warner Books, 1973); Nine Months In the Life of An Old Maid (Popular Library, 1976); Attachments (Simon and Schuster, 1977); Emmeline (Simon and Schuster, 1980); and Olivia, or the Weight of the Past (Crown, 1994).

Other manuscripts include drafts of unpublished works, including a work titled Self-Defense, a piece titled “His Little Women,” with comments by Cy Rembars, and pages from an unfinished biography of Mata Hari.
Correspondence in the collection includes a letter from Nan A. Talese (at Simon and Schuster) to Wendy Weil, dated 1981.


Throughout her career, author Judith Rossner (1935 – 2005) wrote incisive novels and stories that centered on women on a voyage of self-discovery who discover the joys and sorrows of ambition, love and loneliness. While her best known work remained Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Simon & Schuster, 1975), which was successfully adapted for the movies in 1977, the author produced a varied body of work that in some ways traced the history of the status of women in the latter half of the 20th century, from the quiet affluence of the 1950s through the turbulent upheavals of the 1960s, through the growth and development of feminism in the 1970s and beyond.

Judith Perelman was born on March 1, 1935 in New York, New York, the daughter of Joseph Perelman and his wife, the former Dorothy Shapiro, a schoolteacher who encouraged her daughter’s literary ambitions. Raised in the Bronx, she attended public schools and enrolled in City College but dropped out at the age of 19 when she married her first husband Robert Rossner, a teacher and writer.

While working as secretary for a real estate broker, Rossner began her literary career in earnest, penning short stories and submitting them to various women’s magazines. Undaunted by the rejection slips and the demands of raising her two young children, she continued to hone her craft and undertook work on what would become her first novel, To the Precipice (Morrow, 1966), about a woman confronting the mistakes in her life. While the reviews were generally respectful, the book did not sell well.

A similar fate befell her next two novels, Nine Months in the Life of an Old Maid (Dial Press, 1969) and Any Minute I Can Split (McGraw Hill, 1972). These early works may have reflected facets of her own life: her heroines have married men they don’t love and had children for the wrong reasons. Each woman must eventually accept responsibility for her decisions and must take action that may be painful but liberating.

Rossner ended her own marriage in 1972 after the family had moved to a commune in New Hampshire. Newly single with two children to support, she returned to secretarial work. Rossner became intrigued by a real-life murder case – that of a young schoolteacher who had been murdered after an encounter in a singles bar. Initially, she proposed an article on the case to Esquire magazine, but the legal department quashed it, fearful her work might influence the outcome of the trial. Around the same time, Rossner was injured in a car accident. While recovering, she thought about the extent to which people might be responsible for their own misfortunes and made the decision to write a novel loosely inspired by the murder case. She wrote a one-sentence proposal and sent to Simon & Schuster: "I want to write a book about a schoolteacher who's murdered picking up someone when she's cruising a singles bar." The publisher bought her concept and the resulting book hit a nerve with the public. Looking for Mr. Goodbar became a best-seller; its paperback rights sold for $300,000 and the film rights for $250,000, providing Rossner with financial stability.

Her follow-up novel, Attachments (Simon & Schuster, 1977), proved something of a disappointment to the public. Centered on the two women who marry conjoined twins, the book earned mixed reviews and lackluster sales.

Emmeline (Simon & Schuster, 1980) was something of a departure for Rossner and it is arguably her best work. A period piece set in mid-19th Century New England, the novel reportedly is based on a true story of a young girl working in the textile mills who is sexually harassed by her boss, becomes pregnant and is forced to give up the child. Years later she begins an affair with a much younger man who may be her son. It’s a poignant, well-written novel and was a critical success. (An opera written by Tobias Picker and based on Rossner's novel premiered in 1996.)

Rossner’s next novel, August (Houghton Mifflin, 1983), was her second number one best-seller. Written at The Writers’ Room, a loft space she helped to organize, August told the parallel stories of a young woman and her therapist, set during the summer month when traditionally most therapists go on vacation. Framed as something of a mystery story but laced with wit and humor, it earned rave reviews and struck a chord with the public.

Her three subsequent novels varied widely. His Little Women (Simon & Schuster, 1990) was a modern spin on Louisa May Alcott’s classic against a Hollywood backdrop, but many critics felt her writing was more in the vein of soap opera and romance novels, thus unworthy of a “serious” writer. Olivia, or The Weight of the Past (Crown, 1994), about a mother-daughter relationship, was better received. Her final published work, Perfidia: A Novel (Nan A. Talese, 1997), also drew from a real-life murder case, this one involving a daughter who killed her abusive mother.  It garnered glowing reviews.

In 1979, Rossner married magazine editor Mordecai “Mort” Persky, but the couple divorced four years later. She was later wed for a third time to publisher Stanley Leff. Rossner died of complications from leukemia and diabetes on August 9, 2005 in New York City.

Library of Congress Subject Headings Women authors, American.
American literature -- Women authors -- 20th century.

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