Born to Russian Jewish parents in Omaha, Nebraska, Joan Micklin Silver launched her feature film career in 1975 with Hester Street, a film based on a short story by Abraham Cahan. She wrote the screenplay as well as directing the film that portrays the Jewish-American immigrant experience and which served as a tribute to her parents and heritage.
Initially a music teacher and freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, Micklin Silver was inspired to work in film when she saw Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955). When her family moved to New York City in 1967, she seized this opportunity and began her filmmaking career as a screenwriter for educational film companies. Commissioned by the Learning Corporation of America, Micklin Silver wrote and directed the short The Immigrant Experience: The Long Long Journey (1972). That same year, she sold an original screenplay, Limbo, to Universal Pictures. Unfulfilled with this experience, Micklin Silver, aided by her husband Ray Silver, produced her directorial debut, Hester Street (1975), forming Midwest Film Productions. Micklin Silver went on to independently direct Between the Lines (1977), starring John Heard and Jeff Goldblum; Crossing Delancey (1988), starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert; and A Fish in the Bathtub (1999), starring Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara and Mark Ruffalo. Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979) marked her first studio picture, followed by Loverboy (1989) and Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even (1992). Micklin Silver has also directed movies for television, including Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976), starring Shelley Duvall; Finnegan Begin Again (1985), starring Mary Tyler Moore, Robert Reston and Sam Waterston; and A Private Matter (1992), starring Sissy Spacek and Aidan Quinn, among others.