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The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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Robert Cormier | Biography


Early Life

Robert Cormier was born on January 17, 1925, in the small industrial town of Leominster, Massachusetts. His parents were Lucien Joseph Cormier, a factory worker, and Irma Margaret Cormier (née Collins). The second of eight children, Cormier attended St. Cecilia's, a local Catholic school. The rigid discipline at the school later informed the portrayal of life at Trinity High School in Cormier's Chocolate War novels. He proceeded to Leominster High School and then attended Fitchburg State College. In the late 1940s Cormier found work writing commercials for WTAG, a local radio station. He subsequently had a long and illustrious career as a correspondent and columnist for two local newspapers, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Fitchburg Sentinel. A selection of his articles was later printed as I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor (1991).

A Career in Fiction

From an early age, Cormier's writing efforts were encouraged by his teachers, first at St. Cecilia's and later at Fitchburg State. Although he is best known today as a writer of young adult literature, his first book-length works of fiction were written for adults. Now and at the Hour (1960), his debut novel, deals with a father's struggle to keep his terminal illness a secret from family members. Two subsequent novels for adults, A Little Raw on Monday Mornings and Take Me Where the Good Times Are, appeared in 1963 and 1965 respectively. With the publication of The Chocolate War (1974), however, Cormier seemed to have found his calling as a writer for young adults. The idea for the novel, Cormier later acknowledged in an interview, came from his own son's refusal to take part in a school chocolate sale. Though praised by reviewers, schools and libraries often challenged or banned The Chocolate War and Cormier's later novels. Detractors believe the inclusion of violence and sexuality, though realistic, make his works unsuitable for adolescent readers.

In later life, Cormier continued to write primarily for young adults. His subsequent novels include The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (1983), which describes the struggles and triumphs of a group of terminally ill teenagers in an experimental clinic, and Tunes for Bears to Dance To (1992), which reprises The Chocolate War's themes of bullying and intolerance. Cormier also revisited the characters and setting of The Chocolate War in his 1985 sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, various organizations honored Cormier for his contributions to young adult literature. In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the American Library Association's career-achievement award for young-adult authors. Although Cormier eventually retired from journalism, he kept writing fiction well into his 70s, publishing a total of 18 novels during his lifetime.

Robert Cormier died on November 2, 2000, reportedly from complications of a blood clot. He was survived by his wife, Constance, 4 children, and 10 grandchildren. Newspaper columnists throughout the United States eulogized Cormier as a clear-eyed and compassionate writer who thoughtfully depicted the hardships of high school life. William H. Honan, the author of Cormier's obituary in the New York Times, praised his writing for its "challenging" content and "uncompromising realism."

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