American author Bernard Malamud was born on April 26, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Max and Bertha Malamud, were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a grocer. The Malamud household was simple, with little in the way of literature or art. Malamud, however, loved to read and to attend the movie theater. Malamud went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and after high school earned a B.A. from City College of New York in 1936. He received a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1942.
From 1949 to 1961, Malamud taught English at Oregon State University. His teaching schedule allowed him to dedicate three days of each week to writing, and although Malamud was not prolific—he wrote eight novels and 65 short stories in his lifetime—he produced literature that earned him a place as a major American author. In 1961, he took a position teaching creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont. In 1967, Malamud was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Malamud’s first published novel was The Natural (1952), a story about an aging baseball player, Roy Hobbs, who gets a chance at fame. In 1984, the movie The Natural came out, starring Robert Redford as Roy. Malamud’s second novel was The Assistant (1957), a story about a Jewish immigrant grocer in New York, Morris Bober, who hires a non-Jewish man of questionable character, Frank Alpine, as his assistant. Malamud’s other novels include A New Life (1961), The Fixer (1966), The Tenants (1971), Dubin’s Lives (1979), and God’s Grace (1982). The Fixer won a 1967 National Book Award and won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Malamud completed seven short story collections, with his first collection, The Magic Barrel (1958) earning the 1959 National Book Award.
Themes in Malamud’s fiction include the isolation of the individual, class conflicts, urban decay, fate, and forces that erode love and family, such as infidelity, divorce, poverty, and an inability to settle down. The language of his fiction reflects his Jewish upbringing and makes use of Jewish folklore, Yiddish expressions, and English jargon. At the same time, elements of myth and parable appear in his writings. The Fixer, for example, explores the conflict between a Jewish man and anti-Semitic forces in early twentieth-century Russia, but on a larger level it explores the quixotic, often cruel nature of fate. The main character, Yakov Bok, and his ordeals are based on the real-life story of Mendel Beilis, a Jewish man accused in 1911 of killing and mutilating a Christian child in Russia for a Jewish “blood ritual.” Many of Malamud’s stories depict characters who have lost their faith in God and their religion, leaving them to make sense of the world alone—and often with terrible consequences.
Bernard Malamud married an Italian-American, Catholic woman, Ann De Chiara, in 1945. Together, they had two children, Paul and Janna. Malamud died in 1986 in Manhattan. He was 71.