At a Glance
Bernard Malamud is the Chekhov of the urban Jewish milieu. Like the elegant short stories of the great Russian author, Malamud’s writings were deeply rooted in social concerns. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York, and the experiences of hard-working immigrants were particularly important to him. Linguistically, Malamud depicted this world using a mélange of English and Yiddish, giving his stories a unique and powerful rhythm. The language further served as a commentary on the cultural mosaic that was (and still is) New York. Within this often-bleak landscape, Malamud saw glimmers of hope and possibility. In doing so, he managed to create honest depictions of the Jewish immigrant experience with lyrical touches that suggested the potential the future might hold.
Facts and Trivia
- Although Malamud is not particularly known for sports writing or anything resembling Americana, one of his most-loved works is the baseball story The Natural.
- Malamud earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his book The Fixer. It was turned into an Oscar-nominated film starring Alan Bates the following year.
- Like many writers, Malamud began his career writing short stories, which were later published in collections. He put out dozens of shorts throughout his career and won an O. Henry Award in the late 1960s.
- As a professor, Malamud taught at Oregon State University and Bennington College.
- For the past twenty years, the PEN/ Malamud Award has recognized achievement in short-form writing. Notable recipients include celebrated novelist John Updike and the prolific Joyce Carol Oates.
Bernard Malamud was born on April 26, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York. The older of two sons of Max and Bertha (Fidelman) Malamud, who had emigrated from Russia in the early twentieth century and ran a grocery store, he enjoyed a relatively happy childhood. Both Yiddish and English were spoken in the Malamud household, and a great emphasis was placed on the cultural aspects of Judaism. Malamud’s early years were spent going to the Yiddish theater on Manhattan’s Second Avenue and reading novels by such favorites as Horatio Alger. Doubtless his later writings were influenced also by his father’s stories of life in czarist Russia.
Malamud’s father and teachers encouraged young Bernard to develop his obvious talent for storytelling. One of his most cherished gifts he received at age nine; it was the multivolume Book of Knowledge encyclopedia that his father gave him after the boy’s recovery from pneumonia. Many of his boyhood nights were spent in the back room of the family store, putting on paper the stories he made up to amuse his friends. He would later confess a lifelong love for short fiction even over the novel, because, as he said “if one begins early in life to make up and tell stories, he has a better chance to be heard out if he keeps them short.” His interest in literature continued through high school at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, where he was an editor of the literary magazine and was involved in dramatic productions.
In 1936 Malamud graduated with a B.A. from City College of New York. He had written a few stories while in college, and after graduation he continued to write in the little spare time he had from jobs in a factory, a variety of stores, and as a clerk with the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. While working on an M.A. at Columbia University, he taught English at Erasmus Hall Evening High School, devoting his days to studying and writing. He continued his teaching at Erasmus for several years after receiving his graduate degree in 1942.
In 1945, Malamud married Ann de Chiara. His father was quite upset by Malamud’s marrying a gentile but was later reconciled—on the birth of the couple’s son, Paul. During the 1940’s, Malamud’s stories appeared in several noncommercial magazines, a fact that made him happy even though he received no payment. In 1949, he sold “The Cost of Living” to Pearl Kazin at Harper’s Bazaar . In that same year, he and...
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