This article examines the preoccupation with failure that pervades Cynthia Ozick’s essays. Ozick regularly presents herself in her public statements as obscure, unread, and soon to be forgotten; in essays and interviews she habitually returns to a period in her twenties and thirties when she labored in vain to get published. Ozick’s concern with the youthful literary success that eluded her is the visible edge of a larger fascination with failure that spirals through her essays. Whether comically underscoring the incompetence with which writers approach the ordinary tasks of life or meditating more somberly on the waning of fame and the difficulties of achieving cultural permanence, Ozick finds marginality, failure, and falling short as fundamental to literary creation.

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