Edward Lewis Wallant Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Edward Lewis Wallant was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 19, 1926. His father, who was disabled by a mustard-gas attack during World War I, was almost continuously hospitalized during Wallant’s early years, and he died when his son was six years old. Wallant, an only child, was reared in a shabby although respectable middle-class neighborhood by his mother, Anna, and two aunts. Except for his Russian-born grandfather, who told him stories of the old country, it was a household without adult males. During his years at New Haven High School, Wallant held a number of jobs, including plumber’s assistant, delivery boy for a drugstore across the street from a Catholic hospital, and hot-dog hawker at Yale football games. Although his academic career in high school was not remarkable, he did attend briefly the University of Connecticut. He soon left, however, to join the U.S. Navy.

The final months of World War II found Wallant serving as a gunner’s mate in the European theater of operations; after his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he enrolled in Pratt Institute to prepare for a career as an artist. In 1947, he married Joyce Fromkin, a woman he had known since childhood; in 1948, they moved to Brooklyn. After his graduation from Pratt in 1950, he was hired by the L. W. Frohlich advertising agency, where he became art director for a Westinghouse account. In the same year, he also enrolled in creative writing courses at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he studied with Charles Glicksberg and Don Wolfe. Under their guidance, Wallant wrote a group of short stories and an unpublished novel, “Tarzan’s Cottage.”

In 1953, Wallant moved to the advertising agency of Doyle, Kitchen, and McCormick. He also moved his family from New Rochelle, New York, where a son, Scott, had been born in 1952, to Norwalk, Connecticut. In 1954, his daughter, Leslie, was born. In 1955, his short story “I Held Back My Hand” appeared in New Voices 2: American Writing Today, edited by his...

(The entire section is 831 words.)