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March 18: Bernard Malamud

March 18, 2013

malamudPulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud died in Manhattan at 71 on this date in 1986. Malamud was the author of eight novels and sixty-five published short stories. He grew up in an immigrant household in Brooklyn, with "no books that I remember in the house, no records, music, pictures on the wall," he said. Malamud began writing fiction as a young man, but it was not until the reality of the Holocaust leaked into American culture that he began writing in earnest. His first collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel, was awarded the National Book Award in 1959, and his 1966 novel about the anti-Semitic Beilis Trial in Russia, The Fixer, established him alongside Saul Bellow and Philip Roth as one of the three principals of American Jewish literature (in English). Malamud taught creative writing for many years at Bennington College in Vermont. His fiction explored — sometimes in a Yiddish accent — the anguish and loneliness of modern life as well as the redemptive capacity of love and the irrepressible power of conscience. "Life," he once wrote, "is a tragedy full of joy." For a fine Blog-Shmog article by Marek Breiger about Malamud's literary significance, click here. For a Blog-Shmog article by Leonard Lehrman about musical treatments of Malamud's work, click here.

"I try to see the Jew as a symbol of the tragic experience of man existentially. I try to see the Jew as universal man. Every man is a Jew though he may not know it. The Jewish drama is prototypic, a symbol of the fight for existence in the highest possible human terms. Jewish history is God’s gift of drama."—Bernard Malamud