Alice Hoffman was born on March 16, 1952 in New York City. She grew up on Long Island but, clearly a woman with excellent taste, she now resides in Boston. Alice earned her BA at Adelphi University before going on to achieve her MA at the Stanford University Center for Creative Writing.
It was while she was a student at Stanford that she wrote her first novel, Property Of. She’d been encouraged to submit a short story to the literary magazine Fiction. Alice’s story was not only published, the editor of the magazine contacted her and asked her if she was working on a novel. Property Of was that novel and upon its completion it was published by Farrar Straus & Giroux—Alice Hoffman was 21.
Hoffman has published more than thirty novels, three collections of short fiction, and eight young adult novels. In addition to Practical Magic, her works include Faithful, The Ice Queen, The Red Garden, and The Dove Keepers—considered to be her seminal work and a great contribution to American literature; it’s also one of my Mom’s favorites and that woman has spectacular taste.
Alice Hoffman saved my life. She doesn’t know me, and there is no reason for her to, but she gave me peace, aspirations, and brought me closer to my Mom. I’ll likely never meet her but her impact on me through her works has been undeniable and irreversible.
When I was 13, as most children do, I changed; unfortunately, not for the better. I became depressed and anxious. I know that’s not uncommon in adolescence now but, at the time, I remember feeling like everything was caving in on itself. My parents did everything they could. They listened to me, took me to counselors I wouldn’t to speak to, and paid for medication I refused to take. The solution presented itself when my Mom decided we’d both try out light therapy—which involves sitting under a UV lamp for a minimum of 30 minutes a day in an effort to increase the users’ serotonin levels.
Getting an angsty 13-year-old to sit still with their mother for any amount of time when all they want to do is brood in their room alone, any parent can tell you, is no easy feat; my Mom doesn’t spook easily. To accomplish her goal, my Mom plied me with TV and movies. As long as my homework was done, I could watch as much as I wanted until bedtime. The first time we tried out the lamp together, my Mom rented the movie Practical Magic. We sat, close together, under the lamp for nearly a full two hours. I went to bed that night enchanted. For the first time in a long time, I felt inspired and excited about something. You could argue that it was the light therapy working it’s magic, but I don’t think so.
I can’t tell you how many times I watched that movie with my Mom, for the first few times with rapt attention, then as it became comforting background noise—Practical Magic became my favorite bedtime story. While we watched, my Mom would knit and she taught me to as well.
The truly unbelievable (and embarrassing) part of this story is that, for the longest time, I didn’t know that Practical Magic was based on a book. I read it for the first time in college. As a freshman in a new environment, navigating the stresses of daily college life and working to pay rent, I experienced another bout of anxiety and depression and that’s when I borrowed the book from my local library. I kept it for so long that the geriatric librarian left a message on my phone in which she threatened to report me for theft if I didn’t return the book immediately. I’ve since purchased my own copy and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it.
Every time I feel lost or disenchanted, I read it again. Practical Magic is just that—magic. It brought me closer to my family, lifted my spirits, and gave me a shared point of interest to bond over with my first new friend after we moved to New Hampshire. Alice Hoffman doesn’t know me but I owe her more than words can say.
Facts about Alice Hoffman were taken from her biography on alicehoffman.com.