Prominent USA Writers: Joseph Heller


Joseph Heller was a prominent American author, who specialized primarily in short novels, satires, and plays. His works focus mainly on the lives of people in the middle class, although his best-known work is the novel Catch-22, which is seen as both a historical as well as a satirical novel. Catch-22 has entered the English language as a term that is used to refer to a situation that features only no-win choices that are all negative. He lived to be seventy-six years old.

Heller was born in Brooklyn’s Coney Island in New York, on May 1, 1923. There is speculation among some scholars that Heller developed his attraction to writing at the age of 10, when he got a child’s version of The Iliad. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941 and held jobs as a filing clerk, a messenger boy, and even a blacksmith’s apprentice. He postponed college to join the US Army Air Corps, doing so at the ripe age of nineteen and flying mostly “milk runs” in sixty combat missions as a member of the 488th Bomb Squadron. “Milk runs” had a tendency to be viewed as inglorious since they were uneventful on account of not encountering significant enemy fire.

After he returned from the war, he was able to study at NYU and the University of Southern California thanks to the G.I. Bill. He got is M.A. in 1949; the M.A. was in English and awarded by Columbia University. After a year overseas at Oxford University, he began teaching composition at Pennsylvania State University. Later on, he worked for Time, Inc. and then as a minor ad agency’s copywriter. His first published short story ran in The Atlantic magazine in 1948.

The idea for the novel Catch-22 came to Heller one morning in 1953 when he was at home. He jotted down two sentences, and then began planning the book’s characters and plot around those sentences. A week after this planning stage, the author completed the novel’s first chapter and sent it off to his agent. He refused to write for a whole year afterwards as he plotted the remainder of his story. Though Heller failed to plan Catch-22 as a full-length novel, it eventually took shape as that, and it took him a full eight years before he could deliver the whole novel to his publisher.

Catch-22 was finally published in 1961 in hardcover, but it failed to sell well in the US in its first year (only 30,000 copies sold). Critically, it was the victim of mixed reviews with some reviews deriding it as crass and disorganized. However, a strange occurrence happened when the novel was published in paperback the following year. It caught on with baby-boomers who were very anti-war, as the book contained much anti-war sentiment. As a result, the book eventually sold 10 million copies, and Heller became a bona fide millionaire due to royalties from his product.

Heller produced several works after Catch-22, but none of them could hold a candle to the popularity and acclaim that his first novel garnered. His follow-up to Catch-22 was Something Happened, which was a novel about main character and narrator Bob Slocum, who engages in stream-of-consciousness thought about his life. Good as Gold was published in 1979, and it had a much happier tone than Something Happened, telling the story of a Jewish professor who is offered the chance to be American’s first-ever Jewish Secretary of State. At this stage of his career, Heller also became a playwright, and he penned the anti-war play, We Bombed in New Haven.

In late 1981, the author was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which caused temporary paralysis. The closing years of the 20th century would see Heller finish his last novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man, but he ended up dying from a heart attack shortly after finishing it, on December 12, 1999. Heller won awards in his life not just for his literary efforts, but also for flying his “milk runs” in World War II. One of the awards he won for his literary efforts was in 1996 and called the Thomas Cooper Medal. Today, Joseph Heller is viewed as one of the best satirists after World War II.

For more information about Joseph Heller, visit:

? Archive of Joseph Heller Achievements

?Quotes By Joseph Heller

? Joseph Heller Biography

? Interview with Joseph Heller

? Article on Joseph Heller