Joseph Heller was born on May 1, 1923, in New York City, and grew up near the Coney Island amusement park. His parents, recent Russian immigrants, spoke little English, and his father died when Joseph was only five years old. After graduating from high school, Heller joined the Army Air Corps in 1942, and flew sixty bombing missions in a B-25 before being discharged in 1945. Heller entered college after the war, earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University followed by a master’s degree from Columbia University, and studied for a year at Oxford on a Fulbright scholarship. He returned from England in 1950 and taught English at Pennsylvania State University but left to work in magazine advertising because he felt uncomfortable in the academic world.
In 1945 Heller began publishing short stories in magazines such as Story, Esquire, and the Atlantic Monthly, but it was not until 1955 that he began work on Catch-22. Although the completed manuscript passed from publisher to publisher before Simon and Schuster agreed to take a chance on it, the novel became an instant success upon its publication in 1961. Before the 1960s were over, Catch-22 was recognized as one of the decade’s most representative works of art.