Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 26, 1914. His parents, Bertha and Max, were Russian Jewish immigrants who had come to the United States in the early 1900s. Growing up during the Great Depression, Malamud and his younger brother Eugene endured a difficult childhood. Malamud enjoyed films and literature as a child, and he began writing his own stories when he was young.
Malamud worked in factories and for the Bureau of the Census in Washington, DC before beginning a career in teaching. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1936 and completed a master's degree in English Literature from Columbia University in 1942. He then taught evening classes at his former high school, Erasmus Hall, before becoming an instructor of English at Oregon State College in 1949. Shortly thereafter, he began publishing books.
Malamud began his writing career in his 30s. Although Malamud became an agnostic (or someone who does not think it is possible to know if God exists or not) as) an adult, his close studies of Jewish tradition and faith informed his work. He was drawn to writing about the Jewish experience, saying, "I for one believe that not enough has been made of the tragedy of the destruction of six million Jews. Somebody has to cry—even if it's a writer, 20 years later." Malamud once said that "all men are Jews," remarking on the suffering of humanity.
The suffering of humanity and the Jewish experience, particularly in the years following World War II, would become recurring themes in his work. His first novel, The Natural, was published in 1952, followed by The Assistant in 1957 and The Magic Barrel in 1958. Very soon after he began publishing, Malamud began winning awards. The Assistant won the National Jewish Book Award in 1958. The Magic Barrel won the National Book Award in 1959, as did his 1966 novel The Fixer, which also won a Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote short stories, including the 1969 collection Pictures of Fidelman, which included O. Henry Award winner "Man in the Drawer."
Over the course of his career, Malamud published eight novels, four short story collections, and five standalone short stories.
Malamud, survived by his wife and two children, died in his home on March 18, 1986. Two posthumous story collections were published in 1989 and 1997. In 1988, the PEN American Center began awarding the annual PEN/Malamud Award, funded by a $10,000 bequest Malamud made to the Center. In 2014, the centennial of his birth was marked with tributes and celebrations at Oregon State University (formerly Oregon State College) and in media outlets around the world.