Passed/Failed: Joseph Heller

Author Joseph Heller, 75, is probably most famous for his novel Catch-22. His other books include Something Happened and Closing Time. His autobiography, Now and Then, will be out in paperback in May. During The Word, the London Festival of Literature, he is at the Barbican on 21 March and at Croydon Clock Tower on 22 March
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The Independent Online
For crying out laude!: I was a very good student in all my schools - but never in the top level. I was cum laude - there are two degrees above that. I always managed to attain the lowest level of distinction.

Homework alone: Elementary schools were numbered rather than named. I went to PS188. "PS" stood for "public school" in Coney Island (it is not really an island but part of a Brooklyn sand spit). At 13 I went to Abraham Lincoln High School until I was 17 and a half. I confess that I loved school. I even liked homework; I liked very much having something to do. Twice in high school I played truant; I calculated with remorse afterwards that I hadn't had as good a time at New York's Paramount Theatre as I would have had in classes, the cafeteria and the sweet-shop at Lincoln.

GI blues: At 22, after the war, I entered college and got married on virtually the same day. But I stayed only a year at the University of South California. We liked the climate, but in California at that time it was impossible to find a decent apartment. The second reason I stayed for such a short time was that we did miss New York City. New York University was probably the largest private university in terms of enrolment; "private" meant that you paid the full tuition fee - but for me, because of the GI Bill of Rights, there were no fees.

To cut a long short story short: When I took a sophomore course in short- story writing, most of the students on the course were aged between 23 and 30; a couple of them had already written novels and the professor who taught us had to beg those students not to give him so much of their work to read. Two friends I made on philosophy courses, Edward Blaustein and a student named Kahn, received Rhodes scholarships at a time when few - very few - were awarded to Jews.

Come Heller or high water: I was there from 1946-1948 and immediately enrolled at Columbia for a Masters Degree. Then I went straight to Oxford on a Fulbright scholarship. I didn't even wait for graduation or to see if my Masters thesis had been accepted; there was a ship sailing with two or three hundred Fulbright and Rhodes scholars.

I've got a little reading list: I enjoyed Oxford. Until the war, very few people travelled anywhere and this was my first experience as a civilian. I was there for a Masters in Literature. Most of the students were much younger. I remember when standing in line for Registration being handed a list of books with which it was assumed we were familiar; I hadn't even heard of half of them.

Many a rejection slip: In 1939, when I was 16 and Russia invaded Finland, I wrote a short story about a Finnish soldier defending his post with ingenious tricks against Red forces. I submitted it for publication in Collier's, Liberty and the New York Daily News. Those were my first rejection slips. No, I don't still have them.

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