Famous Like Me > Writer > R > Mordecai Richler
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Profile of Mordecai Richler
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||27th January 1931
|Place of Birth:
||Montréal, Québec, Canada
Mordecai Richler (January 27, 1931 - July 3, 2001) was a Canadian author, scriptwriter and essayist. Richler was among Canada's best known and most widely published writers. He was also a controversial public figure. Richler's uncompromising opinions on contemporary Canadian issues easily matched, and sometimes exceeded, the satirical sting of his fiction.
Son of a scrapyard dealer, Richler was born and raised on St. Urbain Street in The Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal. He attended Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) to study English but dropped out before completing his degree. Richler moved to Paris at age 19, intent on following in the footsteps of a previous generation of literary exiles. He lived in Paris for several years, then moved to London, England. He returned to Montreal in 1972.
Richler's career took off with the publication of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz in 1959. The book featured a frequent Richler theme: the lives lived in his Jewish neighbourhood in the Plateau district of Montreal during the 1940's and 50's. The 1974 movie version was directed by Richler's friend Ted Kotcheff and starred Richard Dreyfuss in his first leading role. Richler and Lionel Chetwynd co-wrote the screenplay.
Throughout his career, Richler wrote acerbic journalistic commentary. He had little tolerance for pomposity, pretense or provincialism. Often derisive of the Quebec separatists, Richler was a critic of Quebec's restrictive language laws. Another favorite target was the government-subsidized "Canlit" movement of the 1970's and 80's. In later years, the onetime "enfant terrible" seemed happy to settle into the role of curmudgeon. What never changed were Richler's caustic comments and disheveled appearance. He was more than willing to say the unsayable—though often in a weary mumble, with head bowed, hair askew and drink in hand. Admirers praised Richler for daring to tell uncomfortable truths. A 2004 oral biography by Michael Posner was entitled The Last Honest Man.
Richler frequently said in interviews that his goal was to be a honest witness to his time and place, and to write at least one book that would be read after his death. His work was championed by journalists Robert Fulford and Peter Gzowski, among others. Detractors called Richler's satire heavy handed and noted his propensity for recycling material. Some critics thought Richler more adept at sketching striking scenes than crafting coherent narratives. Richler's ambivalent relationship with Montreal's Jewish community was captured in Mordecai and Me, a book by Joel Yanofsky published in 2003. Richler was also the subject of a 1986 National Film Board of Canada documentary by Alan Handel.
Among Richler's many awards and honours was a 1990 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Richler was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2001, just a few months before his death. It was an ironic finale that might have made a memorable scene in a Richler novel: a fierce critic of the Canadian establishment accepting the country's highest honour.
Richler had five children with his wife Florence. The best known is Daniel, a longstanding figure in Canadian media and broadcasting. In The Last Honest Man friends made special mention of Richler's happy marriage and his warm family life.
Mordecai Richler is interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
Awards and recognition
- 1969 Governor General's Award for Cocksure.
- 1972 Governor General's Award for St. Urbain's Horseman.
- 1974 Screenwriters Guild of America Award for Best Comedy for screenplay of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
- 1976 Canadian Library Asssociation Book of the Year for Children Award: Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang.
- 1976 Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award for Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang.
- 1995 Mr. Christie's Book Award (for the best English book age 8 to 11) for Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case.
- 1997 The Giller Prize for Barney's Version.
- 1998 Canadian Booksellers Associations "Author of the Year" award.
- 2000 Honorary Doctorate of Letters, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec.
- Barney's Version was chosen for the inclusion in Canada Reads 2004, championed by author Zsuzsi Gartner.
- The Acrobats (1954) also released as Wicked We Love (July 1955)
- Son of a Smaller Hero (1955)
- A Choice of Enemies (1957)
- The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1959)
- The Incomparable Atuk (1963)
- Cocksure (1968)
- The Street (1969)
- St. Urbain's Horseman (1971)
- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz [screenplay] (1974)
- Joshua Then and Now (1980)
- Joshua Then and Now [screenplay] (1985)
- Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989)
- Barney's Version (1997)
Fiction for young adults
- Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975)
- Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur (1987)
- Jacob Two-Two and the Great Spy Case
- Images of Spain (1977)
- This Year In Jerusalem (1994)
- Hunting Tigers Under Glass: Essays and Reports (1968)
- Shovelling Trouble (1972)
- Notes on an Endangered Species and Others (1974)
- The Great Comic Book Heroes and Other Essays (1978)
- Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album (1984)
- Broadsides (1991)
- Belling the Cat (1998)
- Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country (1992)
- Dispatches from the Sporting Life (2002)
- On Snooker: The Game and the Characters Who Play It (2001)
- The Best of Modern Humor
- Writers on World War II
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