Bernard Malamud 1914-1986

By Emilie Fortin



Bernard Malamud was born on April 26th 1914 in the city of Brooklyn, New York from Jewish immigrant parents (Farrant, p.1). He went to City College of New York in 1936 and graduated with a B.A. and received his M.A., writing on Thomas Hardy, at Columbia in 1942. To pay for his tuition, Malamud worked odd jobs like “hotel waiter and entertainer, worker in a yarn factory, high school teacher, clerk for the Census Bureau”, and of course, he wrote (Shechner, p. 2). In 1945, at the age of thirty-one, he married Ann de Charia and had two children, Paul and Janna. Seven years later, in 1952, he published his first novel, “The Natural” and in the next few years he traveled to Rome and Russia. In 1967, he was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and in the same year he was “elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences” (Farrant, p. 2). Since Oregon State could not accommodate for Malamud’s writing schedule, he chose to be part of the Bennington University faculty for many years. Bernard Malamud died on March 18th 1986, at the age of seventy-two (Shechner, p. 3).


            Bernard Malamud’s Style

            His writings have both tragic and comic components and “rooted deeply in depression”, which can be partly explained by Malamud’s distress of the Holocaust, especially being a Jewish man (Shechner, p. 3). Because Malamud did not give interviews very often and did not write a biography, we can only guess how and why he wrote. However, a quote from Malamud, published in the New York Times give his readers an insight on his way of writing, which says “people say I write so much about misery, but you write about what you write best” (Advameg Inc). This quote is only a small glimpse into Malamud’s tormented world. Nevertheless, Bernard Malamud can also be funny. In his work, Pictures of Fidelman, it is described as a “raucous comedy of art, art criticism, sex and desire gone beserk” set in Venice, Italy, with hilarious scenes of comedy (Shechner, p. 6). Malamud wrote tirelessly, since he defined himself by the accomplishment of his work.


His Writings

At the end of his life he had written fifty-five short stories and seven novels (Shechner, p. 3). One of his most famous short stories is “The Magic Barrel”, which is described as a story with “bright energy of a fairy tale, […] with something of the somber tones of a depression tract” (Bluestone, p. 404). The story is often compared to a metaphor for a human’s spiritual existence, where one looks at their relationship with God (Bluestone, p. 404”. This important short story is an example of Malamud’s mastery of language and story-telling, and it is the reason why he is “one of the most prominent figures in Jewish American Literature” (Advameg Inc).


1952 – The Natural, 1957 – The Assistant, 1961 – A New Life, 1966 – The Fixer, 1969 – Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition, 1971 – The Tenants, 1979 – Dubin’s Lives, 1982 – God’s Grace.


1958 – The Magic Barrel, 1963 – Idiots First, 1973 – Rembrandt’s Hat. (Farrant, p. 2)



Interesting links



Advameg Inc. (2007). Bernard Malamud’s Biography. November 16 2007


Bluestone, S. “God as Matchmaker: A Reading of Malamud’s The Magic

Barrel”. Critique. 41.4 (2000).

Farrant, P. A. “Bernard Malamud”. Research guide to biography and criticism. 2 (1985):


Shechner, M. Bernard Malamud (1914-1986). Columbia University Press, 2000.

Picture source: 2006