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Bernard Malamud

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Title: Bernard Malamud  
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Subject: The Fixer (novel), National Book Award for Fiction, The Assistant (novel), The Tenants (novel), Robert Giroux
Collection: 1914 Births, 1986 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Novelists, American Agnostics, American Humanists, American Male Novelists, American Male Short Story Writers, American Short Story Writers, Bennington College Faculty, Burials at Mount Auburn Cemetery, City College of New York Alumni, Columbia University Alumni, Erasmus Hall High School Alumni, Jewish Agnostics, Jewish American Novelists, Jewish American Short Story Writers, Jews and Judaism in Oregon, National Book Award Winners, Oregon State University Faculty, People from Manhattan, Postmodern Writers, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winners, Writers from Brooklyn, Writers from New York City
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Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud
Born (1914-04-26)April 26, 1914
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died March 18, 1986(1986-03-18) (aged 71)
Manhattan, New York
Occupation Author, teacher
Nationality American
Period 1940–1985
Genre Novel, short story

Bernard Malamud (April 26, 1914 – March 18, 1986) was an American author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the best known 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 (also filmed), about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award[1] and the Pulitzer Prize.[2]


  • Biography 1
  • Writing career 2
  • Themes 3
  • Posthumous tributes 4
    • Centenary 4.1
  • Quotations 5
  • Awards 6
  • Bibliography 7
    • Novels 7.1
    • Story collections 7.2
    • Short stories 7.3
    • Books about Malamud 7.4
  • References 8
  • Sources 9
  • External links 10


Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Bertha (née Fidelman) and Max 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.[3] 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 (November 1, 1917 – March 20, 2007), 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.

Raised Jewish, Malamud was in adulthood an agnostic humanist.[4]

Malamud died in Manhattan in 1986, at the age of 71.[5]

Writing career

Malamud wrote slowly and carefully; he was not especially prolific. He is the author of eight novels[6] and three collections of short stories. The posthumously published Collected Stories contains 65 short stories and is 629 pages long. Maxim Lieber served as his literary agent in 1942 and 1945.

He completed his first novel, The Light Sleeper, 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. 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 for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[1][2] 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.

The Magic Barrel was his first published collection of short stories (1958) and won Malamud the first of two National Book Awards that he received in his lifetime.[7] Most of the stories depict the search for hope and meaning within the bleak enclosures of poor urban settings. The title story focuses on the unlikely relationship of Leo Finkle, an unmarried rabbinical student, and Pinye Salzman, a colorful marriage broker. Finkle has spent most of life with his nose buried in books and therefore isn’t well-educated in life itself. However, Finkle has a greater interest – the art of romance. He engages the services of Salzman, who shows Finkle a number of potential brides from his "magic barrel" but with each picture Finkle grows more uninterested. After Salzman convinces him to meet Lily Hirschorn, Finkle realizes his life is truly empty and lacking the passion to love God or humanity. When Finkle discovers a picture of Salzman’s daughter and sees her suffering, he sets out on a new mission to save her. Other well-known stories included in the collection are: "The Last Mohican", "Angel Levine", "The First Seven Years", and "The Mourners". This last story focuses on Kessler, the defiant old man in need of "social security" and Gruber, the belligerent landlord who doesn't want Kessler in the tenement anymore.


Malamud’s fiction touches lightly upon mythic elements and explores themes like isolation, class, and the conflict between bourgeois and artistic values.

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. For example, in "The Mourners" landlord and tenant learn from each other's anguish. In "The Magic Barrel", the matchmaker worries about his "fallen" daughter, while the daughter and the rabbinic student are drawn together by their need for love and salvation.[8]

Posthumous tributes

Grave of Bernard Malamud at Mount Auburn Cemetery

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."[9]


There were numerous tributes and celebrations marking the centenary of Malamud's birth (April 26, 1914).[10][11] To commemorate the centenary, Malamud's current publisher (who still keeps most of Malamud's work in print) published on-line (through their blog) some of the "Introductions" to these works.[12] Oregon State University announced that they would be celebrating the 100th birthday "of one of its most-recognized faculty members" (Malamud taught there from 1949 to 1961).[13]

Media outlets also joined in the celebration. Throughout March, April, and May 2014 there were many Malamud stories and articles on blogs, in newspapers (both print and on-line), and on the radio. Many of these outlets featured reviews of Malamud's Collected Novels that had recently been issued by the Library of America.[14] There were also many tributes and appreciations from fellow writers and surviving family members. Some of the more prominent of these kinds of tributes included those from Malamud's daughter, from Malamud's biographer Philip Davis,[15] and from fellow novelist and short story writer Cynthia Ozick.[16]


"I write a book or a short story three times. Once to understand her, the second time to improve her prose, and a third to compel her to say what it still must say."

"It was all those biographies in me yelling, 'We want out. We want to tell you what we've done to you.'"

"Once you've got some words looking back at you, you can take two or three — or throw them away and look for others."

"Where there's no fight for it there's no freedom. What is it Spinoza says? If the state acts in ways that are abhorrent to human nature it's the lesser evil to destroy it."

"All men are Jews, though few men know it."

"Life responds to one's moves with comic counterinventions."

"Without heroes we would all be plain people and wouldn't know how far we can go."

"Life is a tragedy full of joy."

"There comes a time in a man's life when to get where he has to go - if there are no doors or windows he walks through a wall."


National Book Award

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

O. Henry Award

  • (1969) Man in the Drawer

PEN/Malamud Award

Given annually since 1988 to honor Malamud's memory, the PEN/Malamud Award recognizes excellence in the art of the short story. The award is funded in part by Malamud's $10,000 bequest to the PEN American Center. The fund continues to grow thanks to the generosity of many members of PEN and other friends, and with the proceeds from annual readings. Past winners of the award include John Updike (1988), Saul Bellow (1989), Eudora Welty (1992), Joyce Carol Oates (1996), Alice Munro (1997), Sherman Alexie (2001), Ursula K. Le Guin (2002), and Tobias Wolff (2006).


For a complete list of works, see Bernard Malamud bibliography


Story collections

  • The Magic Barrel (1958)
  • Idiots First (1963)
  • Rembrandt's Hat (1974)
  • The Stories of Bernard Malamud (1983)
  • The People and Uncollected Stories (includes the unfinished novel The People) (1989)
  • The Complete Stories (1997)

Short stories

Books about Malamud

  • Smith, Janna Malamud. My Father Is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud. (2006)
  • Davis, Philip. Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life. (2007)
  • Swirski, Peter. "You'll Never Make a Monkey Out of Me or Altruism, Proverbial Wisdom, and Bernard Malamud's God's Grace". American Utopia and Social Engineering in Literature, Social Thought, and Political History. New York, Routledge 2011.


  1. ^ a b c "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ a b c "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  3. ^ Boyer, David. "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: FLATBUSH; Grads Hail Erasmus as It Enters a Fourth Century", The New York Times, March 11, 2001. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  4. ^ Markose Abraham (2011). American Immigration Aesthetics: Bernard Malamud and Bharati Mukherjee As Immigrants. AuthorHouse. p. 146.  
  5. ^ Rothstein, Mervyn (March 19, 1986). "Bernard Malamud Dies at 71" (obituary). The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  6. ^ Malamud, Bernard. The People: And Other Uncollected Fiction. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989
  7. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1959". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With essays by Liz Rosenberg and Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  8. ^ "Bernard Malamud (1914–1986)". Contributing Editor: Evelyn Avery(?). Georgetown University course materials(?).
  9. ^ Roth, Philip, "Pictures of Malamud", The New York Times, April 20, 1986. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  10. ^ "Bernard Malamud at 100". 92Y. 
  11. ^ "Bernard Malamud Tribute, Thursday May 1, 2014 (video)". Center for Fiction. 
  12. ^ "Bernard Malamud Centenary - Work in Progress". Work in Progress. 
  13. ^ "OSU to celebrate 100th birthday of former faculty member Bernard Malamud - News & Research Communications - Oregon State University". 
  14. ^ James Campbell (21 March 2014). "Book Review: Library of America's Bernard Malamud volumes". WSJ. 
  15. ^ "Fuse Interview: Jewish-American Writer Bernard Malamud at 100 — Appreciating the Beauty of the Ethical". 
  16. ^ Ozick, Cynthia (March 13, 2014). "Judging the World: Library of America’s Bernard Malamud Collections". The New York Times. 


  • Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 28: Twentieth Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Daniel Walden, Pennsylvania State University. The Gale Group. 1984. pp. 166–175.
  • Smith, Janna Malamud. My Father Is a Book. Houghton-Mifflin Company. New York: New York. 2006
  • Mark Athitakis, "The Otherworldly Malamud", Humanities, March/April 2014 | Volume 35, Number 2

External links

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