Robert Cormier was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1925. As a member of a large, working-class family during the Great Depression, he came to know hardship at an early age. Cormier was not what he calls a “physical type,” so he became an avid reader who was influenced at first by the novels of Thomas Wolfe and their romanticism. Later, he discovered the economy and realism of Ernest Hemingway, a discovery that changed his focus as a budding writer.
Cormier spent a year at Fitchburg State College near his home and began writing short stories. He was fortunate in gaining the encouragement of one of his professors, and several of his stories were accepted for publication in magazines. Upon leaving college, Cormier obtained a position as a reporter and commercial writer for WTAG, a Worcester radio station. Writing concise copy for broadcast, he was able to practice and perfect economy of language while working creatively.
Cormier decided at this time that his calling was to be a writer. He became a police reporter and human interest columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and in the 1950s moved on to the Fitchburg Sentinel as wire editor, editorial writer, and feature columnist. His Sentinel work was duly noticed, and Cormier’s stories were selected by the Associated Press as the best in New England newspapers.
In 1960 Cormier began his career as a novelist with an adult novel, Now and at the Hour. This was followed by two more adult novels, A Little Raw on Monday Morning (1963) and Take Me Where the Good Times Are (1965).
All the while, Cormier was reading the works of notable writers. Above all, he was impressed by the spiritual themes and metaphorical skills of British writer Graham Greene. By 1974 Cormier was prepared to apply his new perceptions of fiction to his own writing. Thus, when an incident took place involving his son’s refusal to sell chocolates to raise funds for his private school, Cormier saw in this a substantial metaphor by which to examine social issues and matters of conscience that concerned him.
The result was The Chocolate War, the young adult novel that catapulted him into public recognition and instant controversy. The New York Times and the American Library Association selected the novel as one of the best books of the year, and it won the MAXI Award for best paperback of 1975. Cormier continued to pursue the theme of the individual versus society in his subsequent works for young adults, which have also won numerous awards. I Am the Cheese, After the First Death, and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway have all appeared on the American Library Association’s Best Books of the Year for Young Adults list. Horn Book magazine presented the Fanfare Award to I Am the Cheese. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, a British award. According to Cormier, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Award of the National Council of Teachers presented to him in 1982 is his crowning achievement because it recognizes the significance of his entire contribution to fiction for young adults. Besides earning such accolades, Cormier’s novels for young adults are very popular. The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and After the First Death have sold a combined total of 750,000 paperbacks.