Robert Cormier Biography
Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War is a book not everyone wants you to read. When released in the early 1970s, the novel was indifferently reviewed by critics. It nevertheless became a major success, and that is where Cormier’s troubles began. The depiction of secret societies and anarchic students was troubling to some parents and school officials. Thus, like The Catcher in the Rye and other landmark novels before it, The Chocolate War became one of the most frequently banned books in the United States. Cormier himself has often spoken out against this kind of censorship and, despite numerous attempts at suppression, The Chocolate War remains one of the most popular young adult novels ever. Readers are drawn to Cormier’s keen understanding of the pain and confusion universal to the adolescent experience.
Facts and Trivia
- Cormier worked for a newspaper for more than three decades, and many of his books were inspired by real-life stories.
- The Chocolate War was turned into a film in 1988 by former actor Keith Gordon. Critics have overwhelmingly preferred the book, as is the fate of most film adaptations.
- Among his many influences, Cormier has cited Look Homeward, Angel author Thomas Wolfe as one of his most important. Cormier even tried, unsuccessfully, to copy Wolfe’s style when he began writing.
- Cormier’s first professional success as a writer happened without his knowing it. A college professor sent one of his works to a writing competition. It won, and Cormier earned his first paycheck as an author—$75.
- Cormier considers talent to be only part of the equation in his success as a writer. He puts equal, if not greater, emphasis on discipline.
For a writer who has dealt with a number of extreme subjects—including death, the occult, and terrorism—Robert Cormier lived a rather quiet and unassuming life. Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, into a large French Canadian family, Cormier lived most of his life in that small town some thirty miles from Boston. After a year at Fitchburg State College, he began work at a radio station in nearby Worcester before working at newspapers, first in Worcester and then in Fitchburg. At Fitchburg newspapers he was a reporter, editor, and columnist, until he left to write full-time in 1978; during that period, he won several awards for his stories and columns. “John Fitch IV” was his pseudonym as a newspaper columnist.
Throughout his adult life, Cormier continued to produce fiction. His stories have appeared in Redbook, McCalls, and other popular publications, and he published a short-story collection, Eight Plus One (1980) as well as four adult novels—Now and at the Hour (1960), A Little Raw on Monday Mornings (1963), Take Me Where the Good Times Are (1965), and Heroes (1998). His literary career dramatically changed when his agent convinced Cormier that The Chocolate War was really a young-adult title. Pantheon Books agreed, and the novel was an instant success. Since its publication in 1974, Cormier has become known primarily as a writer for young people.
During his career, Cormier and his wife raised four children and maintained as normal a life in Leominster as a writer can manage in the United States. They lived for years at the same Main Street address, and Cormier even listed his phone number in one of his novels. He was always been accessible to his readers, and young people called and wrote to him regularly to ask about his novels and his career as a novelist.
In many ways, Cormier was an autobiographical writer. The settings of his novels resemble the Massachusetts locales near where he lived in Leominster in a number of significant details, and the action of his fiction often has a personal origin. The Chocolate War, for example, began in an incident during his son Peter’s parochial school chocolate sale. Fade (1988) retells much of Cormier’s own French Canadian family history and Roman Catholic background. Yet Cormier’s novels are not really as autobiographical as they...
(The entire section is 2,495 words.)