Born in 1925, Robert Cormier, one of the best known writers of teenage fiction was in in time compared to J.D. Salinger and William Golding. His novels are often brutal and always uncompromising; the good guys do not always come out on top. Cormier was especially concerned with corruption, victimization, betrayal and conspiracy.
When he was twelve, Robert Cormier's teacher, a nun, read a poem by him and declared "Robert, you're a writer." Robert began his professional writing career scripting radio commercials. He went on to become a newspaper journalist for 31 years, winning three major journalism awards.
Robert credits both journalism and writing commercials as helping him to achieve his characteristic economy of style. His first work of fiction - a novel for adults - was published in 1963, but it was with the groundbreaking The Chocolate War in 1974 that Robert became a full-time writer. A gentle, caring, family-orientated man, Robert was concerned about the problems facing young people in modern society. This concern is reflected in his novels, which are often brutal and always uncompromising in their depiction of the individual struggling in the face of power, corruption, victimization, betrayal and conspiracy. Tenderness, for example, depicts the relationship between a teenage runaway and a juvenile serial killer. In Heroes, a teenage war hero and victim returns to confront the idolized youth leader who betrayed him.
One of Robert's favourite books was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, so it must have been particularly gratifying for him to read in Newsweek that "if any author in the field can challenge J. D. Salinger or William Golding it is Robert Cormier." He died in 2000.
PLACE AND DATE OF BIRTH:
Leominster, Mass., USA; January 17, 1925
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
MOST TREASURED POSSESSION:
My L. C. Smith manual typewriter
When did you start writing?
I began writing at the age of twelve in the seventh grade when my teacher, a nun by the name of Sister Catherine, read one of my poems and declared, with an air of delight and astonishment, 'Robert, you're a writer.' I have been a writer since that moment.
My first short story was sold when I was nineteen and, again, a teacher played a vital role. Miss Florence Conlon, one of my college teachers, typed up one of my short stories without my knowledge, sent it to a national magazine and sold it, making me a professional writer.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere, easy to find and develop into stories. But the idea that works for me must be linked to an emotion. In fact, the emotion comes first. Something happens that affects me emotionally, and sends me to the typewriter where I devise a character and set the plot in motion. This never varies: emotion, character, plot.
Can you give your top three tips to becoming a successful author?
1. Read. Read all the time. Every successful writer I've met has been a devoted reader.
2. Write. Sounds simple? Not really. You must write regularly, every day if possible. Difficult with the demands of school, classes, social life. But even if it's only writing down a bit of description, a simile or metaphor, an observation, on a regular basis, it's vital.
3. Stop, look, and listen. Open your pores to the world around you. People look but don't always see. Watch for the nuances, the moods of people and places.
Walking on the sidewalk in my own hometown, stopping at a store on Main Street and seeing my first novel on display in the window. A novel by Robert Cormier! The dream of a lifetime suddenly come true in an instant. The thrill remains and is constantly renewable with every book that appears, ever fresh and wonderful.
Favourite place in the world and why?
My hometown of Leominster, Massachusetts, USA, where I walk downtown on a Tuesday afternoon and might meet someone who was a classmate of mine in the second grade. The feeling of roots and tradition and a kind of security. Yet, I've travelled the world and have favourite cities and places Melbourne in Australia, London in England, the Normandy section of France.
What are your hobbies?
Reading, walking (briskly, two miles a day, when possible), listening to old-time jazz, movies.
If you hadn't been a writer, what do you think you would have been?
I hate to think of what my life would have been like without writing. I was a journalist for thirty years and loved my work. But outside of writing, I probably would have been happy doing something connected with books. Librarian? Book store owner? Perhaps.