Biography: Robert Edmund Cormier
Robert Edmund Cormier was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1925. He grew up in the French Hill section of Leominster, where other families with French-Canadian, Catholic backgrounds lived. Cormier’s father, Lucien, worked in a factory, but the family experienced hard times during the Depression and frequently had to move to afford rent. They never left the French Hill district, however, and Cormier’s Irish Catholic mother, Irma, provided a warm and loving home for her eight children, no matter where they lived.
As a child, Cormier went to school at St. Cecelia’s Parochial School, where in middle school he was encouraged by a nun who read one of his poems and declared him to be a writer. He wrote for the yearbook while at Leominster High School, and as a freshman at Fitchburg State College, he wrote a short story that a teacher secretly mailed to a magazine. When the magazine accepted the story six weeks later, the teacher presented Cormier with a check from the magazine for seventy-five dollars.
Throughout the 1940s to the 1970s, Cormier worked as a reporter, editor, and award-winning columnist. Most of his work was done for the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise. He published his first novel, Now and At the Hour, in 1960. In 1974 he published his first Young Adult novel, The Chocolate War, based upon the experiences of his son Peter, who refused to sell chocolates for his Catholic school fund raiser. The Chocolate War was banned in many libraries because it included profanity and sexual references. His second YA novel, I Am the Cheese, was published in 1977 and was based on the U.S. Witness Relocation Program. This novel, too, included material that parents found objectionable. Both novels were made into movies, however. The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and a third YA novel, After First Death received the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1991 from the American Library Association.
During his career as an author, Cormier wrote seventeen novels and fifty short stories that tackled such subjects as death, violence, and abuse, subjects that he refused to water down for his young readers. When asked why he wrote such hard-hitting books, Cormier replied that “. . . many people think teenagers live in a kind of vacuum. They don’t. And when they read about the dark side of life in books, it gives an affirmation to what they see and hear every day.”
Cormier died of lung cancer on November 2, 2000. He was seventy-five. He had married Connie Senay in 1948, and together they had three daughters and one son.