Joseph Heller (writer)

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Joseph Heller (1986)

Joseph Heller (born May 1, 1923 in New York , † December 12, 1999 in East Hampton ) was an American writer .

life and work

Heller was on Coney Iceland in New York district of Brooklyn born of poor Russian Jewish immigrants. At the age of 19, Heller joined the United States Army Air Forces . During the Second World War he was stationed on the island of Corsica between May and December 1944 . There he flew 60 sorties as a bombardier. His wartime experiences became the basis for his first and most famous novel, Catch-22 .

After studying English, which he completed in 1949, he received a teaching position at Pennsylvania State University . In 1952, Heller first worked for the media company Time Inc. , soon as a copywriter for a small media agency, where the future crime writer Mary Higgins Clark also worked. During this time Heller was already writing: His first short story was published in the Atlantic in 1948 . In 1945 he married Shirley Held, with whom he had two children.

Heller's debut novel Catch-22 was published in 1961. Heller had worked on the satirical anti-war novel at irregular intervals since 1953. The novel tells of Air Force Captain John Yossarian, who tries in vain to avoid any combat mission and to be discharged from the military. Heller's rejection and criticism of institutions, government and the military are evident in the novel.

A film version of the book of the same name was made in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols . John Yossarian is played by Alan Arkin , with Anthony Perkins , Orson Welles and Art Garfunkel in other roles .

Heller's second novel What happened to Slocum (ger .: Something Happened ) from 1974 is a satire on the American nuclear family life, God knows ( God Knows ) of 1984, Heller engaged in the life of King David and in his novel Closing time he describes the further lives of some characters from Catch-22 in New York in the 1990s.

In addition to his work as a writer, Heller pursued an academic career and taught as a lecturer in creative writing at Yale and at the University of Pennsylvania .

In 1981, Heller divorced his wife. In the same year he fell ill with Guillain-Barré syndrome , a neurological disease that made him temporarily paralyzed. He dealt with this serious illness and his long-term rehabilitation in 1986 in the autobiographical work No Laughing Matter , which he wrote together with his friend Speed ​​Vogel.

In 1987, Heller married Valerie Humphries, one of the nurses who helped him recover.

In 1998, Heller published his memoir Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here . Since 1977 he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

Joseph Heller died of a heart attack in 1999 shortly after he had finished working on his last novel, the autobiographical novel Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man .



  • Catch-22 , 1961 (German also "The IKS hook")
  • Something Happened, 1974 (Eng. "What happened to Slocum?")
  • Good as Gold, 1976 (German "Gut wie Gold")
  • God Knows, 1984 (German "knows God")
  • Picture This, 1988 (Eng. "Rembrandt was 47 and looked ruin in the face")
  • Closing Time, 1994 (German "Endzeit")
  • Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, 2000


  • We Bombed in New Haven, 1967 (Eng. "We bomb Regensburg")
  • Catch 22, 1973
  • Clevinger's Trial, 1973


  • No Laughing Matter, 1986 (German "Not at all funny", co-author: Speed ​​Vogel)
  • Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here, 1999 (German "once and now")


Secondary literature

  • Tracy Daugherty: Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller . St. Martin's Press, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-312-59685-9 .
  • Robert Merrill: Joseph Heller . Twayne, Boston 1987, ISBN 0805774920 (= Twayne's United States Authors Series 512).
  • James Nagel (Ed.): Critical Essays on Joseph Heller . GK Hall, Boston 1984, ISBN 0816186855 .
  • Sanford Pinsker: Understanding Joseph Heller . 2, revised edition. South Carolina University Press, Columbia SC 2009, ISBN 9781570038402 .
  • Judith Ruderman: Joseph Heller . Continuum, New York 1991, ISBN 0826405169 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Members: Joseph Heller. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed April 3, 2019 .