Edward Lewis Wallant was born October 19, 1926, in New Haven, Connecticut. The son of Sol and Ann (Mendel) Wallant, he received his elementary and secondary education in public schools and briefly attended the University of Connecticut before joining the U.S. Navy as a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Glennon in 1944. After World War II ended he attended Pratt Institute (1947-1950) and later the New School for Social Research (1954-1955). Beginning in 1950 Wallant worked as a graphic artist for several advertising agencies. In 1957 he became art director at the McCann Erikson agency, and he held this position at the time of his death. His first novel, The Human Season, was published in 1960, and it received the Jewish National Book Award. It was followed in 1961 by The Pawnbroker. Both works received high critical acclaim. Wallant received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962. On December 5, 1962, he died suddenly of an aneurysm; his untimely death cut short a career of unusual promise. He left behind two additional novels, which were published posthumously: The Tenants of Moonbloom and The Children at the Gate.
In spite of the recognition he gained, Wallant’s writing did not fit into the styles that were then fashionable. His profound sense of humor, although it depended to some extent upon absurdities, was not based upon existentialism, and although he was Jewish and was particularly concerned with Jewish themes, he was not generally described as a “Jewish writer”—in part because he regularly superimposed Christian symbolism on his Jewish characters and settings. His striking and sometimes grotesque characterizations, and his caustic wit and sly humor, are peculiarly his own. His fictional world, though full of problems and ridiculous situations, is not the conventionalized blind universe of irrationality, hopelessness, and despair. Wallant admired the human spirit and believed in its infinite possibilities.