Class of 1936
Bernard Malamud was one of the great American novelists and short-story writers of the 20th century.
Among his most renowned novels are “The Natural” (1952), an allegory about a baseball player; “The Assistant” (1957), which centers on a Jewish grocer during the Depression and his Italian helper; and “The Fixer” (1966), which garnered both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award for its powerful depiction of anti-Semitism in czarist Russia. Malamud had received an earlier National Book Award for his first collection of short stories, “The Magic Barrel,” published in 1958.
He once said that his works were about “simple people struggling to make their lives better in a world of bad luck.” Like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Malamud often focused on Jewish themes and the role of the Jew in America. “The Natural” was an exception, but it, too, is a morality tale, one with a much darker ending than the popular 1984 film with Robert Redford that was based on it. Several of Malamud’s other novels and stories were made into feature films, including “The Fixer” (1968), “The Angel Levine” (1970), “The Assistant” (1997), and “The Tenants” (2005). Some of his stories were made into television films.
Roth called him “a man of stern morality” and said Malamud was driven by “the need to consider long and seriously every last demand of an overtaxed, overtaxing conscience torturously exacerbated by the pathos of human need unabated.” In his eulogy to Malamud, Bellow described him as “a myth maker, a fabulist, a writer of exquisite parables.”
Born in Brooklyn on April 26, 1914 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Malamud attended Erasmus Hall High School before enrolling at City College at the height of the Great Depression and graduating with a B.A. He went on to work in stores, in a factory, as a clerk for the U.S. Bureau of the Census and as an English teacher in New York City high schools at night. He earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1942. Because he was the sole support of his mother, he was excused from military service during World War II. In 1949, Malamud became an instructor in freshman composition at Oregon State University. There, he wrote his first major works and became nationally known. His 1961 novel, “A New Life,” fictionalized his OSU experience. That year, he left to teach creative writing at Bennington College, where he remained for more than 20 years.
In 1967, Malamud became a member of the American Institute of Arts and Sciences, receiving its Gold Medal in Fiction in 1983. He received the 1958 Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; the 1969 O. Henry Award for his story “Man in the Drawer”; Vermont's 1979 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts; and the 1981 Brandeis Creative Arts Award. He was president of the PEN Club from 1979 to 1981. City College honored him with a Townsend Harris Medal in 1963. After his death on March 18, 1986, shortly before his 72nd birthday, the annual PEN/Malamud Award was established to recognize excellence in the art of the short story. Recipients have included John Updike, Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty and Joyce Carol Oates.