Childhood & Early Life
Bernard Malamud was born to Russian Jewish immigrants Bertha and Max Malamud in Brooklyn, New York. He was eldest of the two sons born to the couple. His parents were not highly educated and owned a grocery store to make ends meet.
Unlike his parents, young Malamud had an affinity for books since early on. He loved to read books as they provided him an insight into the world unknown to him otherwise.
He attained his formal education from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. During his years at school, he watched numerous movies and theatres and started penning stories.
Completing his high school degree, he took up a job as a teacher-in-training for a year. Thereafter he enrolled at the City College of New York, graduating from the same in 1936. Four years later, he completed his Master’s degree from Columbia University, writing a thesis on Thomas Hardy.
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He took up a job at the Bureau of the Census in Washington DC, later teaching English at the high school night classes for adults in New York.
In 1948, his passion for writing paved way for his first ever written novel. However, not fully confident about the end-result, he burned the manuscript.
In 1949, he took up the role of an instructor, at the Oregon State University, since the post of a teacher required a PhD degree. He served in this capacity until 1961.
While at the Oregon State University, he devoted three out of the seven days of the week focussing on writing technique. He soon developed a style of his own and started working on his first novel.
In 1952, he came up with his debut novel, ‘The Natural’. The story of the novel revolved around Roy Hobbs, a fictional baseball player who achieved iconic status due to his skilful play. He employed a recurring writing technique in the book, which have been a dominant feature in all his subsequent write-ups.
The success of the first book, growing popularity of him as a writer and the escalating demand rubbed him on a positive note as he set straight to work on the plot of his second novel.
He released his second book, ‘The Assistant’ in 1957. Set in New York, the plot of the novel give glimpses about his own childhood through the course of life of the protagonist, Morris Bober, a Jewish immigrant who though financially instable provides accommodation to an anti-Semitic youth.
Following year, i.e. in 1958, he came up with his first collection of short stories, titled ‘The Magic Barrel’. The book gained a large audience and was exhaustively appreciated by the critics and the readers alike. It even went on to win the National Book Award and opened the gates for more short stories in future like, ‘Idiots’ First’, ‘Pictures of Fidelman’ and ‘Rembrant’s Hat’.
Year 1961 witnessed the release of his next book, ‘A New Life’. The book reveals the life of an ex-alcoholic Jew who takes up the job of a teacher at Oregon State University with an aim gain back his self-respect. Same year, he resigned from his duties at the Oregon State University and take up the post of a creative writing teacher at Bennington College.
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Five years later, he came up with his magnum opus, Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘The Fixer’. The book, based on the historical account of Mendel Beiliss, a Russian Jew who was accused of murdering a Christian child, met with overwhelming success and was critically applauded too.
In 1967, he was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Four years later, he came up with yet another novel titled, ‘The Tenants’. Much like his earlier works, the plot of the story was based in New York with two protagonists, a Jewish writer and an African American writer and their struggle for survival.
Towards the later years of his life, he slowed down the pace of his writing and took five years to complete his next novel, ‘In Dubin’s Lives’, wherein the protagonist of the novel tries to uplift his sense of self worth
His last finished work was released in 1982, was titled ‘God’s Grace’. The novel was a take on the Holocaust with description that was similar to the Bible story of Noah’s ark. Following year, he came up with ‘The Stories of Bernard Malamud’.
His final novel was an unfinished work titled, ‘The Tribe’. It revolved around the life of a Russian Jewish peddler and his existence among the Native American Indians.
Awards & Achievements
His first collection of short story was duly appreciated and earned him the National Book Award for Fiction in 1959. He was conferred with the award yet again in 1967 for his masterpiece work, ‘The Fixer’.
‘The Fixer’ which was his magnum opus in his long career was duly appreciated both in popular and critics category. The well written and beautifully captured verse earned him the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1967.
In 1969, he was bestowed with the O. Henry Award for his work, ‘Man in the Drawer’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He first met Ann De Chiara in 1942, an Italian-American Roman Catholic, and a Cornell University graduate. The two tied the knot three years later on November 6, 1945.
Chiara proved to be his constant companion and support. She reviewed most of his writings and typed the manuscripts for him. The couple was blessed with two children, Paul and Janna.
He breathed his last on March 18, 1986 in Manhattan. He was aged 71 at the time of death.
Upon his death, a special award was created in his honor, PEN/Malamud award to acknowledge writers who have excelled in the art of short story writing. Some of the recipients of the award include John Updike, Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty and so on.