American novelist and dramatist Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on May 1, 1923. Heller started off his writing career by publishing a series of short stories, but he is most famous for his satirical novel Catch-22. Set in the closing months of World War II, Catch-22 tells the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who discovers the horrors of war and its aftereffects. This novel brought the phrase "catch-22," defined in Webster's Dictionary as "a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives," into everyday use. Heller wrote Closing Time, the sequel to Catch-22, in 1994. Other novels include As Good As Gold and God Knows. He also wrote No Laughing Matter, an account of his struggles with Guillain-Barr Syndrome, a neurological disorder, in 1986. Thirty-five years after writing his first book, Heller wrote his autobiography, entitled Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here. In his memoirs, Heller reminisces about what it was like growing up in Coney Island in the 1930s and 1940s. On December 13, 1999, Heller died of a heart attack in his home on Long Island. His last novel, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, was published shortly after his death.
Author's aide Speed Vogel was born in New York City on March 3, 1918. Before going to work as a shipbuilder during World War II, he attended West Virginia University and New York University. Afterwards, he worked in the textile business. In 1982, author Joseph Heller became ill with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a nervous-system disorder that causes severe muscle weakness. Vogel moved in with Heller to help take care of him during his recovery. Together, they wrote No Laughing Matter about Heller's ordeal and Vogel's part in it. The book appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for four weeks. Vogel died of natural causes on April 14, 2008.