Joan Vaczek Kouwenhoven in Vermont. Photo (c) Russell Lynes


     Joan Vaczek was born on May 6, 1916, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the second child of Louis Vaczek, a Hungarian diplomat, and Johanna Szvoboda Vaczek. In 1917, when the United States entered the first world war, Vaczek's parents returned to Hungary, where her father transferred from the Hungarian Foreign Service to the Austro-Hungarian Army for the duration of the war. After the war, Louis Vaczek was assigned to the Entente Military Mission charged with the transfer of territory in western Hungary, and Joan Vaczek lived in Sopron with her parents until her father was attached to the Hungarian Consulate in Cleveland, Ohio from 1922 to 1925.

     At that point, her father was transferred to the Hungarian Consulate General in Montreal where he served until his retirement in the summer of 1935, and where Joan Vaczek graduated from high school, and went to McGill University for two years, until her father was, at his retirement from the Hungarian Foreign Service, transferred to the Honorary Consulate General in Alexandria, Egypt. Joan Vaczek moved to Egypt with her parents in 1935. She lived in both Alexandria and Cairo,teaching at the American Mission School for Girls, and at a Catholic Convent in Heliopolis.

     When Vaczek was twenty-two years old, her father was reactivated and and established the Hungarian Legation in Cairo, and when she was twenty-three her father was transferred to the Consulate General in New York in early 1940. Again Vaczek -- who had already chosen to become an American citizen, which choice she was allowed to make due to her birth on American soil -- accompanied her parents in their move. In New York she began her writing career, taking a class in the short story from Whit Burnet at Columbia University. In this class, she met a fellow writer, Robert Arthur, who later became her first husband. During the early 1940's, she worked as a Storyteller for the New York Public Library.

     Due to her connection with Whit Burnet, Vaczek first published in Story Magazine in the early 1940's, writing under the pseudonym Joan Vatsek. Her story "The Bees" appeared in Vol. XVIII March-April 1941, No 88, of Story, at a time when the magazine was still edited by both Whit Burnet and Martha Foley, and her story "But It's O! In My Heart followed that same year in Vol. XIX, November-December 1941, No. 92, at a time when Whit Burnet had taken over as sole editor of Story. "The Vigil of Brother Fernando was published in Vol. XXII, January-February, 1943, Story No 99, and "The Balcony" was published in Vol. XXIV, January-February 1944, Story # 105, at a time when Hallie Burnet had joined Whit Burnet as an Associate Editor.

     "The Bees" was selected by Martha Foley for inclusion in the anthology The Best American Short Stories of 1942, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, and "The Vigil of Brother Fernando" was chosen by Whit Burnet and Hallie Burnet for inclusion in the anthology Story:Fiction of the the Forties published by E.P. Dutton and Co., c. 1949. "The Bees" was also reprinted in the anthology Nunsuch: Stories About Sisters, Collected by Candida Lund, published by The Thomas Moore Press, Chicago, c.1982.

     During the second world war, Vaczek moved for two and a half years, from New York to Washington D.C. in order to work at the the Office of Strategic Services, at the Hungarian desk. She was discharged from OSS October 1, 1945, and moved back to New York City, where in December of 1946, she and Robert Arthur were married in a ceremony in the city. They moved to Sharon, Connecticut and later to Yorktown Heights New, York, and they had two children together, Robert Andrew Arthur (b. 1948) and Elizabeth Ann Arthur (b.1953).

     During this period, Vaczek worked on a novel about the Egyptian revolution, and the novel, This Fiery Night, was published by Harper Brothers in 1959. This Fiery Night was a Main Selection of the Literary Guild, and was translated into a number of foreign languages. The novel was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on April 19, 1959, and the author was featured by the Saturday Review, April 11, 1959, as one of "Four New Faces in Fiction" the others being Grace Paley, Philip Roth, and Philip Alston Stone.

     In 1959 Vaczek and Robert Arthur were divorced and on June 13, 1960, Vaczek married John Atlee Kouwenhoven, a writer and an American Studies scholar. She and her second husband moved to Pleasantville, New York, where they lived until 1967, and where Vaczek wrote short stories published in magazines like Cosmopolitan, McCall's, and Redbook. In 1967, she and Kouwenhoven moved full time to a farm in Rupert Vermont, where Vaczek wrote articles for such magazines as Yankee, and Vermont Life. Her play Mark's Place was produced at the Dorset Playhouse in Dorset, Vermont and published in 1976 by Samuel French, Inc. After the death of her second husband in 1990, Vaczek moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she died on November 25, 1996.

Elizabeth Ann Arthur / Robert Arthur, Jr. / Joan Vaczek Kouwenhoven / John Atlee Kouwenhoven / Steven Bauer