Joseph Heller

On this date in 1923, Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn. He enlisted in the US Army Air Force and flew 60 missions as a bombardier in North Africa and Italy. After WW II, Heller graduated from New York University with a B.A. in 1948, earned his M.A. at Columbia in 1949, and was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford in 1949-50. After teaching, he worked as a writer. His masterpiece, Catch 22, was published in 1961, to be followed eventually by seven major books, including: Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), which explored his Jewish-American roots, and Now and Then (1998). God Knows is an absurdist, satiric deathbed autobiography of King David. Heller was paralyzed for a time by Guillain-Barre syndrome. He recovered and co-wrote No Laughing Matter (1986) about his experiences. According to Barbara Gelb ("Catching Joseph Heller," March 4, 1979, New York Times), Heller was not bar mitzvahed at 13. Gelb wrote: "Lena Heller was no more religiously inclined than her husband had been. But she was insecure about her nonconformity, and attempted to conceal it." Heller told Gelb: "My mother used to try to get me to dress neatly on Saturday, even though none of us ever went to a synagogue--except, I guess, once a year on Yom Kippur. I remember once I embarrassed her terribly, on purpose, by yelling up to her from the street, 'Hey, Ma, throw me down a ham sandwich.' " D. 1999.

Photo of Joseph Heller, Miami Bookfair International 1986 under CC 3.0. This photo has been cropped from it’s original version.

"Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth-decay in His divine system of creation?"

—-Joseph Heller, Internet quote sources

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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