Bernard Malamud was one of the most acclaimed American Jewish authors of the 20th century. He wrote novels and short stories that explored themes of identity, morality, suffering, and redemption. He won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his novel The Fixer, which dealt with antisemitism in the Russian Empire. He also wrote The Natural, a baseball novel that was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford. But how did this literary giant die? What was the cause of his death?
Early Life and Career
Bernard Malamud was born on April 26, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants. He had a brother, Eugene, who suffered from mental illness and died in his fifties. Malamud attended Erasmus Hall High School and City College of New York, where he received his BA degree in 1936. He then obtained his MA degree from Columbia University in 1942, writing a thesis on Thomas Hardy.
Malamud was excused from military service in World War II because he was the sole support of his widower father. He worked for the Bureau of the Census in Washington D.C., then taught English in New York, mostly high school night classes for adults. In 1949, he moved to Oregon State University, where he taught freshman composition and devoted three days a week to his writing. He published his first novel, The Natural, in 1952, and his first collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel, in 1958. The latter won the National Book Award.
In 1961, Malamud left Oregon State University to teach creative writing at Bennington College, a position he held until retirement. He continued to produce novels and short stories, such as A New Life (1961), The Assistant (1957), The Tenants (1971), and God’s Grace (1982). His most celebrated work was The Fixer (1966), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It was based on the true story of Mendel Beilis, a Jewish man who was falsely accused of murdering a Christian boy in Kiev in 1911.
Malamud was also a prominent member of the American literary scene. He was friends with fellow Jewish writers such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Cynthia Ozick. He was elected president of the PEN American Center for 1980. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Personal Life and Death
Malamud married Ann De Chiara, an Italian-American Roman Catholic, in 1945, despite the opposition of their parents. Ann typed his manuscripts and reviewed his writing. They had two children, Paul and Janna. Janna later wrote a memoir about her father, titled My Father Is A Book.
Malamud was Jewish, but not religious. He was an agnostic and a humanist. He was interested in the spiritual and ethical aspects of Judaism, as well as its historical and cultural heritage. He often used Jewish characters and settings in his fiction, but he also explored universal themes of human nature and social justice.
Malamud died in his Manhattan apartment on March 18, 1986, at the age of 71. The cause of his death was a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack. According to Wikipedia, he had suffered from heart problems for several years before his death. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Legacy and Influence
Malamud is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. He is praised for his masterful use of language, his rich and complex characters, his realistic and imaginative plots, and his profound and compassionate vision. He is also recognized as a major contributor to the Jewish-American literature, along with Bellow, Roth, and others. He influenced many writers, such as John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Nicole Krauss.
Malamud’s works have been translated into many languages and adapted into films and plays. His novel The Natural was made into a 1984 movie directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. His novel The Fixer was made into a 1968 movie directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde, and Ian Holm. His short story The Angel Levine was made into a 1970 movie directed by Ján Kadár and starring Zero Mostel, Harry Belafonte, and Ida Kaminska.
Malamud’s works have also been the subject of many studies and critiques. Some of the notable books about him are Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life by Philip Davis, Bernard Malamud and the Critics by Leslie A. Field, and Conversations with Bernard Malamud by Lawrence M. Lasher.
Malamud’s works are still widely read and appreciated today. He is remembered as a brilliant and original storyteller, a moral and humanistic thinker, and a voice of the Jewish-American experience. He once said, “I write about what I don’t know, to find out what I know.” He left behind a rich and diverse body of literature that reveals his insights and discoveries about life, art, and humanity.