Nancy Hale (May 6, 1908 – September 24, 1988) was an American novelist and short-story writer.[1] She received the O. Henry Award, a Benjamin Franklin magazine award, and the Henry H. Bellaman Foundation Award for fiction.

Nancy Hale
BornAnna Westcott Hale
(1908-05-06)May 6, 1908
Boston, MA
DiedSeptember 24, 1988(1988-09-24) (aged 80)
Charlottesville, Virginia
SpouseTaylor Scott Hardin, Charles Wertenbaker, Fredson Bowers
ChildrenMark Hardin, William Wertenbaker

Childhood and early adulthoodEdit

Nancy Hale was born in Boston on May 6, 1908. Her parents, Philip Leslie Hale and Lilian Westcott Hale were both painters, and her father was the son of famed speaker and Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale.[2]

She graduated from the Winsor School in 1926 and studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and under her father at the Fenway Studios.[1][3]

In 1928, she married Taylor Scott Hardin, a socialite and aspiring writer, and they moved to New York City.[4] She got a job at Vogue magazine and was soon working as an assistant editor and writer under the pen-name of "Anne Leslie." [4] She began writing as a free-lancer as well, providing articles and short stories to Scribner's, Harper's, The American Mercury, and Vanity Fair.[3] Her first piece for The New Yorker was published in 1929.[3]

Her first novel, The Young Die Good, was published by Scribner's in 1932. Her editor, Maxwell Perkins, called it "a trifle" about Manhattan life but said that "she meant it to be."[5] Her second novel, Never Any More, published in 1934, was about the antagonism of three girls whose mothers are friends.[6] By this time, Hale had divorced Hardin, with whom she had one son, Mark.[4]

In 1935, she married the journalist, Charles Wertenbaker and, in 1936, moved with him to Charlottesville, Virginia.[4] That same year, she published her first collection of short stories, The Earliest Dreams. She and Wertenbaker had a son, named William, in 1938, but the couple divorced in 1941.

Third marriage and life in CharlottesvilleEdit

In 1942, Hale married Fredson Bowers, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, and the couple stayed together until Hale's death over 45 years later.[4] In the same year, she published her best-selling book, The Prodigal Women, also about three women—two sisters from the South and their friend from New England.[6] Reviewing the book in the New York Times, Orville Prescott wrote, "Nancy Hale's clever short stories long have been one of the star attractions in The New Yorker" and that her "knowledge of the inner workings of her fellow-women's minds is almost appalling."[7] At over 700 pages, it was by far her longest work, and its publication followed by the longest interruption to Hale's writing career, resulting from an emotional breakdown.[8] She would later publish a collection of stories, Heaven and Hardpan Farm (1957), based in part on her experience of recovery and psychiatric treatment.

In 1951, she published her fourth novel, The Sign of Jonah, about a Vermont girl's married life in Virginia.,[6] and in 1955, her third collection of short stories, The Empress's Ring. Most of the stories in this collection, as well as those in The Pattern of Perfection (1961) and the semi-autobiographical pieces in A New England Girlhood (1958), were published in The New Yorker.[4] She once claimed to have sold the magazine a record number of stories in one year (12) and eventually published over 80, placing her among The New Yorker's most prolific fiction authors.[9]

During this period, she also wrote two plays, "The Best of Everything" (1952) and "Somewhere She Dances" (1953), which were produced at the University of Virginia's Minor Hall Theatre.[10] She also delivered a series of lectures at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 1959 and 1960 that she later published in The Realities of Fiction (1963).[4]

Her fifth novel, Black Summer (1963), recounted the experiences of a child sent to live with strict Christian relatives. Reviewing the book in the New York Times, Beverly Grunwald wrote that Hale "has taken a 7-year-old boy and penetrated truly and conscientiously into his mind and spirit."[11] Her last, Secrets (1968), was described as a "semi-fictional memoir" in the New York Times and categorized as young adult fiction by The Saturday Review.[12][13]

In 1969, she published The Life in the Studio, a collection of autobiographical pieces, first published in The New Yorker, inspired by having to clear out her parents' studios after her mother's death. May Sarton wrote of the book, "The singular charm of Nancy Hale's memories of her artist mother and father and their circle is that we see them as in a double mirror ... the discerning eye of the adult writer is always present, but at the same time we are immersed in and captured by this private world of artists, as it was."[14] When she followed this in 1975 with a biography of the painter Mary Cassatt, however, the Times' art critic, John Russell wrote that, "The fact that Miss Hale comes of a family of painters and has published a number of novels must be said to have given her delusions of competence both as to the nature of art and as to the motivation of complex and altogether exceptional human beings."[15]

She and a fellow writer, Elizabeth Coles Langhorne, founded the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 1971. Hale argued that, "if Virginia really wanted to further the arts, it could do so easily, moreover cheaply, by purchasing an abandoned motel and staffing it for writers to write in—feeding them and seeing that they were uninterrupted."[16]

She won ten O. Henry Awards for her short stories, beginning with "To the Invader" in 1932.[17] She was awarded a Benjamin Franklin magazine award from the University of Illinois, and the Henry H. Bellaman Foundation Award for fiction, and her 1942 story, "Those are as Brothers," was included in the anthology, 100 Years of the Best American Stories.[18]

Norah Lind has written of Hale that, "... despite any claims she made to the contrary, her work is largely autobiographical. She writes of her remarkable artistic family, successful career years, troubled marriages, and emotional breakdowns. The author is present in the characters who fill her narratives—often youthful and lovely women from privileged social backgrounds."[8]

Hale died on September 24, 1988 at the Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville.[1]


  • The Young Die Good (1932)
  • Never Any More (1934)
  • The Prodigal Women (1942)
  • The Sign of Jonah (1951)
  • Dear Beast (1960)
  • Black Summer (1964)
  • Secrets (1971)
Short Stories
  • "The Earliest Dreams" (1936)
  • "Between the Dark and the Daylight" (1943)
  • "The Empress's Ring" (1955)
  • "Heaven and Hardpan Farm" (1957)
  • "The Pattern of Perfection" (1961)
  • A New England Girlhood (1958)
  • The Life in the Studio (1969)
  • The Realities of Fiction (1963)
  • Mary Cassatt (1975)
Children's literature
  • The Night of the Hurricane (1978)
  • Birds in the House (1985)
  • Wags (1985)
  • Those Raccoons (1985)
  • New England Discovery (1963) editor


  1. ^ a b c Barron, James (26 September 1988). "Nancy Hale, Fiction Writer, Is Dead at 80". Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  2. ^ "Philip Leslie Hale papers, 1818-1962, bulk,1877-1939". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Kunitz, Stanley (1955). Twentieth Century Authors: First Supplement. New York City: H. W. Wilson Co.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Nancy Hale Papers - Biographical Note". Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Smith College. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  5. ^ Perkins, Maxwell; Lemmon, Elizabeth; Tarr, Rodger L. (2003). As Ever Yours: The Letters of Max Perkins and Elizabeth Lemmon. State College, PA: Penn State Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780271022543.
  6. ^ a b c Hart, James D.; Leininger, Phillip. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. New York City: Oxford University Press USA. p. 266. ISBN 9780195065480.
  7. ^ Prescott, Orville (October 2, 1942). "Books of the Times". New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b Norah Lind (2012). Chaon, Dan; Lind, Norah; Nguyen, Phong (eds.). Nancy Hale: On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master. Warrensburg, MO: Pleiades Press. p. 7. ISBN 096414543X.
  9. ^ Moran, Caitlin Keefe. "In Praise of Difficult Women: The Forgotten Work of Nancy Hale". The Toast. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  10. ^ Romano, Lisa. "Nancy Hale (1908–1988)". Encyclopedia of Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  11. ^ Grunwald, Beverly (May 12, 1953). "Integrity Brought Havoc". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Reader's Report". New York Times. May 2, 1971. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  13. ^ Sutherland, Zena (August 21, 1971). "Books for Young People". The Saturday Review. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  14. ^ Sarton, May (July 27, 1969). "The Life in the Studio". New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  15. ^ Russell, John (August 31, 1975). "And then there's Mary Cassatt—she must not be left out". New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  16. ^ Felsenfeld, Daniel. ""Colonial Power: An exploration of America's most prominent artist colonies"". Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  17. ^ "The O. Henry Prize Stories: Past Winners List". Random House. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  18. ^ Moore, Lorrie; Pitlor, Heidi, eds. (2015). 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories. New York City: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 132. ISBN 9780547485850.