Bruce Jay Friedman is an American novelist, playwright, and short-story writer who gained recognition in the 1960’s as a black humorist. He was born in New York City, son of a manufacturer, and developed an interest in writing while working on the DeWitt Clinton High School paper. After graduation, Friedman majored in journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, completing his bachelor’s degree in 1951.
During a 1951-1953 stint as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, he was a correspondent and feature writer for the air force magazine; his experiences provided material for his short stories and his first novel. After completing his military service he married and returned to New York City, where he went to work for publishers of men’s adventure magazines. Eventually he became an executive editor of three magazines. By 1964 he had published two novels and a short-story collection. He left his job in 1966 to devote more time to writing.
Friedman became linked with the 1960’s black humorists, writers noted for using irreverent or grotesque humor to accent the absurdities of existence. Common themes in Friedman’s work are ethnic paranoia, sexual neurosis, and stressed family relationships. Employing sardonic humor, Friedman’s fiction depicts a transient, impersonal, and materialistic America peopled by anxiety-ridden middle-class Jews alienated from Christian America and even ignorant of the roots of their own religious and cultural tradition. Consequently, the most common Friedman protagonist tends to be a loser casting himself as a media version of the non-Jewish hero.
The title character of Friedman’s critically successful first novel, Stern, is a caricature of a self-conscious, bungling urban Jewish American filled with paranoiac delusions about anti-Semitic neighbors. Dependent on others for his identity, Stern seems incapable of responsible relationships. A younger version of Stern, Joseph, is the main character in Friedman’s next novel, A Mother’s Kisses, which focuses on an overprotected young man made indecisive by dependence on his overbearing...
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