Born July 27, 1916, Elizabeth Hardwick grew up with ten brothers and
sisters in Lexington, Kentucky. She attended local schools, and received a
master's degree in English from the University of Kentucky in 1939. Shortly
thereafter, Hardwick moved to New York, and began classes at Columbia
University, where she would matriculate for the next two years.
The contrast between life in Kentucky and in New York inspired Hardwick
to write her first novel,
The Ghostly Lover, which was published in
1945. The plot focused on the emotional development of a southern women who has
moved to New York, which she adopts as her home. Hardwick received critical
attention for her talented prose style, as well as her descriptions of people
After the book was published, Philip Rahv, an editor of the
Partisan Review, asked Hardwick to become a
contributor. Her appearance in this journal marked the beginning of a long
career in literary and social criticism. She went on to publish well-received
The New Republic, and
Harper's. In 1947, Hardwick won a Guggenheim
Fellowship for fiction.
Two years later, Hardwick met and married the poet Robert Lowell. They
spent the next decade traveling in Europe and moving around the United States
where Lowell taught poetry at the University of Iowa, the University of
Indiana, and the University of Cincinnati. In 1954, they settled in Boston,
where they would remain for the next six years. While in Boston, Hardwick
published a second novel,
The Simple Truth, in 1955, and gave birth in
1957 to her only child, Harriet Lowell.
The Lowells returned to Manhattan in 1960, and Hardwick began editing a
compilation of letters by William James, which was published the next year. In
1963, a printer's strike shut down the book review offices of
The New York Times and the
Herald Tribune. Hardwick, who had long
bemoaned the state of book reviewing in the United States, met with a group of
friends to found the
New York Review of Books. The NYRB became one of the most controversial and
intellectually challenging journals in the United States, and Hardwick
served as an advisory editor since its founding.
Hardwick continued to publish critical essays throughout the 1960s and
1970s, and was the first woman to win the George Jean Nathan Award for
outstanding drama criticism in 1967. Many of her essays were compiled and
published in book form in
A view of My Own: Essays on Literature and
Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature
Bartleby in Manhattan (1986).
Hardwick's third novel,
Sleepless Nights, was published in 1979. Its
semi-autobiographical nature, focusing on the reminiscences of a woman named
Elizabeth, received almost unanimous critical acclaim.
Sleepless Nights was nominated for a
National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980.
Hardwick continued to be an influential literary and social commentator.
Anne Tyler wrote of her, “Whatever her subject, Hardwick has a gift for
coming up with descriptions so thoughtfully selected, so exactly right, that
they strike the reader as inevitable.” Hardwick died in Manhattan on December 2,
2007, at the age of ninety-one.