• Birth—April 26, 1914
• Where—Brooklyn, New York (USA)
• Death—March 18, 1986
• Where—New York City, New York
• Education—B.A., City University of New York; M.A.,
• Awards—National Book Award (twice); Pulitizer Prize
Bernard Malamud was an author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Max and Bertha (Fidelman) Malamud, Russian Jewish immigrants. A brother, Eugene, was born in 1917. Malamud entered adolescence at the start of the Great Depression. From 1928 to 1932, Bernard attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. During his youth, he saw many films and enjoyed relating their plots to his school friends. He was especially fond of Charlie Chaplin's comedies.
Malamud worked for a year at $4.50 a day as a teacher-in-training, before attending college on a government loan. He received his B.A. degree from City College of New York in 1936. In 1942, he obtained a Master's degree from Columbia University, writing a thesis on Thomas Hardy. He was excused from military service in World War II because he was the sole support of his widowed mother. He first worked for the Bureau of the Census in Washington D.C., then taught English in New York, mostly high school night classes for adults.
Starting in 1949, Malamud taught four sections of freshman composition each semester at Oregon State University (OSU), an experience fictionalized in his 1961 novel A New Life. Because he lacked the Ph.D., he was not allowed to teach literature courses, and for a number of years his rank was that of instructor. In those days, OSU, a land grant university, placed little emphasis on the teaching of humanities or the writing of fiction. While at OSU, he devoted 3 days out of every week to his writing, and gradually emerged as a major American author. In 1961, he left OSU to teach creative writing at Bennington College, a position he held until retirement. In 1967, he was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1942, Malamud met Ann De Chiara, an Italian-American Roman Catholic, and a 1939 Cornell University graduate. They married on November 6, 1945, despite the opposition of their respective parents. Ann typed his manuscripts and reviewed his writing. Ann and Bernard had two children, Paul (b. 1947) and Janna (b. 1952). Janna Malamud Smith is the author of a memoir about her father, titled My Father is a Book.
Malamud died in Manhattan in 1986, at the age of 71.
Malamud wrote slowly and carefully; he was not especially prolific. He is the author of eight novels and 65 short stories, and his 1997 Collected Stories is 629 pages long. Maxim Lieber served as his literary agent in 1942 and 1945.
He completed his first novel in 1948, but later burned the manuscript. His first published novel was The Natural (1952), which has become one of his best remembered and most symbolic works. The story traces the life of Roy Hobbs, an unknown middle-aged baseball player who achieves legendary status with his stellar talent. The Natural also focuses upon a recurring writing technique that marked much of his work. This novel was made into a 1984 movie starring Robert Redford (described by the film writer David Thomson as "poor baseball and worse Malamud").
Malamud’s second novel, The Assistant (1957), set in New York and drawing on Malamud's own childhood, is an account of the life of Morris Bober, a Jewish immigrant who owns a grocery store in Brooklyn. Although he is struggling financially, Bober takes in a drifter of dubious character.
In 1967, his novel The Fixer, about anti-semitism in Tsarist Russia, won the both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His other novels include Dubin's Lives, a powerful evocation of middle age which uses biography to recreate the narrative richness of its protagonists' lives, and The Tenants, an arguably meta-narrative on Malamud's own writing and creative struggles, which, set in New York, deals with racial issues and the emergence of black/African American literature in the American 1970s landscape.
Malamud is also renowned for his short stories, often oblique allegories set in a dreamlike urban ghetto of immigrant Jews. Of Malamud the short story writer, Flannery O'Connor wrote: "I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself." He published his first stories in 1943, "Benefit Performance" in Threshold and "The Place Is Different Now" in American Preface. In the early 1950s, his stories began appearing in Harper's Bazaar, Partisan Review, and Commentary.
Most of the stories in his first collection, like The Magic Barrel (1958), depict the search for hope and meaning within the bleak enclosures of poor urban settings. Much of Malamud’s fiction touches lightly upon mythic elements and explores themes like isolation, class, and the conflict between bourgeois and artistic values. His prose, like his settings, is an artful pastiche of Yiddish-English locutions, punctuated by sudden lyricism.
Writing in the second half of the twentieth century, Malamud was well aware of the social problems of his day: rootlessness, infidelity, abuse, divorce, and more. But he also depicted love as redemptive and sacrifice as uplifting. In his writings, success often depends on cooperation between antagonists.
Philip Roth: "A man of stern morality," Malamud was driven by "the need to consider long and seriously every last demand of an overtaxed, overtaxing conscience torturously exacerbated by the pathos of human need unabated."
Saul Bellow's 1986 eulogy (in which he also quotes Anthony Burgess):
Well, we were here, first-generation Americans, our language was English and a language is a spiritual mansion from which no one can evict us. Malamud in his novels and stories discovered a sort of communicative genius in the impoverished, harsh jargon of immigrant New York. He was a myth maker, a fabulist, a writer of exquisite parables.
The English novelist Anthony Burgess said of him that he "never forgets that he is an American Jew, and he is at his best when posing the situation of a Jew in urban American society." "A remarkably consistent writer," he goes on, "who has never produced a mediocre novel .... He is devoid of either conventional piety or sentimentality ... always profoundly convincing."
Let me add on my own behalf that the accent of hard-won and individual emotional truth is always heard in Malamud's words. He is a rich original of the first rank. (From Wikipedia.)
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