Children’s/Young Adult Literature:
The Chocolate War, 1974
I Am the Cheese, 1977
After the First Death, 1979
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, 1983
Beyond the Chocolate War, 1985
Fade, 1988, Other Bells for Us to Ring, 1990
We All Fall Down, 1991
Tunes for Bears to Dance To, 1992
In the Middle of the Night, 1995
Frenchtown Summer, 1999
Now and at the Hour, 1960
A Little Raw on Monday Mornings, 1963
Take Me Where the Good Times Are, 1965
Eight Plus One, 1980
I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small Town Editor, 1991
Robert Edmund Cormier (KOR-mee-ehr) lived his entire life within three miles of where he was born. The second child of a French Canadian father, Lucien, and an Irish mother, Irma, he grew up with family and friends who immigrated to work at factories. His father, who worked in comb factories for forty-two years, was Robert’s hero. Though Cormier saw streets and playgrounds as bleak places, his home provided warmth and security.
Cormier attended St. Celia’s Parochial Grammar School, an experience both frightening and exhilarating. The nuns made him feel guilty about everything. Unlike many of his protagonists, Robert was an obedient student; he was fascinated, terrified, and astonished by anyone who broke the rules. When he was in the eighth grade, Robert saw his house burning through his classroom window. Knowing his mother and sister were home, Robert jumped from his seat to run home. His teacher refused to let him leave until he had said his requisite prayers, causing an anger to rage in Cormier for years.
Cormier was an easily intimidated young person who wore glasses. He was introspective and loved reading. He could not remember the days before he began writing. His mother, father, aunts, and uncles marveled at his desire and his ability to do so. The characters in Cormier’s books do things he would never have done; he was obedient because he was afraid to misbehave. Many of his characters’ traits are based on his childhood fears of elevators, dogs, and bullies.
His stories drew from the people he knew, the tales he heard, and legends that fascinated him during his boyhood. Monument, the city that appears in most of his books, is a thinly disguised Leominster. His characters were his own inventions, but neighborhood drama generated the tales told in his books. He viewed himself as a storyteller who put real people in extraordinary situations. Emotion, not thematic concerns, was what he wanted to transfer to his readers.
Cormier met his wife, Constance (Connie) Senay, at a weekly dance, an activity he enjoyed. Married in 1948, they had four children: three daughters and one son. Though they were devout Catholics, Connie and Robert were reluctant to send their children to parochial schools because of Robert’s boyhood experiences. The Chocolate War was based on an event that occurred when Cormier’s son, Peter, was a freshman at Notre Dame Preparatory School. Students were given chocolates to sell. With the approval of his family and a letter from his father to the headmaster, Peter returned his chocolates and refused to sell them. Though Peter had no negative repercussions from this event, Cormier began to wonder what would have happened if there had been peer or faculty pressure to sell the chocolates. “What if” was the premise on which Cormier based many of his books.
His professional writing career began in 1946 when he was hired to write commercials for radio station WTAG. After two years, he transferred to the Worcester Telegram, the station’s newspaper. In 1955, he became a reporter for the Fitchburg Sentinel. By the time he left the newspaper in 1978 to become a full-time writer, he had been promoted to assistant editor and wrote a semiweekly column.
After he had published three novels and sold several short stories to McCall’s and The Saturday Evening Post, Cormier’s reputation as an author was established with the success of The Chocolate War. Though initially turned down by five publishers because he would not change the ending, the book was an immediate success upon its release. His next novel, I Am the Cheese, established his financial security, allowing him to become a full-time writer. His most prestigious awards include the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Author Achievement (1991), presented by the American Library Association, and The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year award in 1974 and 1979.
Cormier saw many similarities between his stories and those of Graham Greene. Greene’s books gave Cormier confidence to write about the experiences and bullies he had encountered. The Web and the Rock (1939) by Thomas Wolfe had the single greatest effect on Cormier as a writer because he identified with the small-town, aspiring author.
Regarded as one of the most important authors in the history of young adult literature, Cormier did not consider himself a young adult author because he never wrote with a particular audience in mind. It was his manager, Marilyn Marlow, who earmarked The Chocolate War for young adults. Recognized for his talent and criticized for not writing happy endings, Cormier addressed themes of struggle between good and evil, the struggle of the individual against external forces, and what happens when good people do not come to the rescue. Confronting the implacable while remaining human was the question that always fascinated Cormier. His dream was to be known as a writer and to produce at least one book that would be widely read.