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At the time, Heller was also working on his first novel, Catch-18. New World Writing published the first chapter in 1955; three years later Heller had a contract to publish the novel with Simon & Schuster. To avoid confusion with Leon Uris's 1961 novel Mila 18, Catch-18 was changed to Catch-22 before its publication in the same year.
Catch-22 is the story of John Yossarian, a bombardier trying to stay alive in the face of war's hypocrisy and insanity (Heller himself was an Army Air Force bombardier during World War II). Upon publication, Catch-22, in Heller's words, "won no prizes and was not on any bestselier list." But it was a very popular novel, and the 1970 film enhanced the book's success.
In addition to stage plays, screenplays, and short stories, Heller continued to write explosive arid satiric novels, including the long-awaited Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold(1979), God Knows (1984), Picture This (1988), and Catch-22's sequel, Closing Time (1994). He also collaborated with Speed Vogel on No Laughing Matter (1986), and wrote a memoir, Now and Then (1998).
Heller's literary achievements span nearly fifty years, and Catch-22 is now considered one of the twentieth century's best novels.
He is married and lives in East Hampton, New York.