Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)

November 22, 2011

Pulitzer-Prize winner Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 26, 1914.

Malamud was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants, and his father, Max, operated a small grocery store, typically working 16 hour days. Malamud received his B.A. from City College of New York in 1936, and did clerical work at the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., writing in his spare time. He earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1942 and taught evening high school in New York City from 1940-1949. Malamud felt compelled to write by the historical events of World War II and the Holocaust.

Malamud moved to the west coast to teach English at Oregon State College from 1949 to 1961, and spent most of his office hours writing. His work was published in Commentary, Harper’s Bazaar, and Partisan Review. He received a fellowship from Partisan Review in 1956 and spent a year abroad; his time in Rome, specifically, inspired a series of stories about Italy.

Four of Malamud’s books were published while at Oregon State, including The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), The Magic Barrel (1958), and A New Life (1961). In 1961 he began a 20-year tenure at Bennington College in Vermont, and spent 1966-68 as a visiting lecturer at Harvard. Malamud gained recognition in 1966 with The Fixer, the story of a Jewish handyman unjustly imprisoned for the murder of a Christian boy.

Malamud was celebrated by critics for giving a modern twist to the ancient art of storytelling, which focused on a strong narrative. He frequently used fable, parable, myth, and allegory in modern, urban settings, and usually included morals and socially critical themes.

In 1959 he won a National Book Award for The Magic Barrel, and another, along with a Pulitzer Prize, for The Fixer. Over the course of the next 30 years he received a Jewish Heritage Award, the Brandeis Creative Arts Award, the Gold Medal in Fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters, and served as President of the American P.E.N..

The Natural, Malamud’s first book, was made into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford and renewed interest in the novel. Malamud credited the film with recognizing him “once more as an American writer, as opposed to a Jewish writer” (New York Times Obituary, 3/20/86).

In 1945 Malamud married Ann de Chiara and had two children, Paul and Janna. He died in New York City of a heart attack at 71 years of age. His cremated remains were buried near Willow Pond in 1991, and his granite lawn marker is engraved with the Hebrew phrase translated as The master of stories.

 Bernard Malamud grave

Bernard Malamud is buried at Mount Auburn in Lot 10652 on Azalea Path.

Adapted from the research of Judy Jackson and Laura M. Gosman, as published in Mount Auburn’s Person of the Week: Bernard Malamud, 2002.

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