Norman Mailer

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Norman Mailer

Born January 31, 1923(1923-01-31)
Long Branch, New Jersey
Died November 10, 2007 (aged 84)
New York City, New York
Occupation Novelist, Essayist, Journalist, Columnist
Nationality American
Genres Fiction, Non-Fiction

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of narrative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once. In 1955, Mailer, together with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which began as an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper initially distributed in Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation.


[edit] Biography

Norman Mailer (born Norman Kingsley Mailer) was born to a well-known Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant, and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer's sister, Barbara, was born in 1927.[1] Raised in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Boys' High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering. At Harvard, he became interested in writing and published his first story at the age of 18, winning Story Magazine's college contest in 1941. As an undergraduate, he was a member of The Signet Society. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In World War II, he served in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry. He was not involved in much combat and completed his service as a cook,[1] but the experience provided enough material for The Naked and the Dead. He was also instrumental in securing the release of murderer Jack Henry Abbott. Six weeks after Mailer played a crucial role in this release, Abbott killed Richard Adan.

[edit] Literary career

[edit] Novels

In 1948, while continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Mailer published The Naked and the Dead, based on his military service in World War II. A New York Times best seller for 62 weeks, it was hailed by many as one of the best American wartime novels and named one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library.

Barbary Shore (1951) was a surreal parable of Cold War left politics set in a Brooklyn rooming-house. His 1955 novel The Deer Park drew on his experiences working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1949-50. It was initially rejected by seven publishers due to its purportedly sexual content before being published by Putnam's.

In the tradition of Dickens and Dostoevsky, Mailer wrote his fourth novel, An American Dream, as a serial in Esquire magazine over eight months (January to August 1964), publishing the first chapter only two months after he wrote it. In March 1965, Dial Press published a revised version. His editor was E. L. Doctorow. The novel, which contains perhaps Mailer's most evocative and lyrical prose, received mixed reviews, but was a best seller. Joan Didion praised it in a review in National Review (April 20, 1965) and John W. Aldridge did the same in Life (March 19, 1965), while Elizabeth Hardwick panned it in Partisan Review (spring 1965). Except for a brief period, the novel has never gone out of print and is admired greatly by Mailer partisans.[citation needed]

Norman Mailer at the Miami Book Fair International of 1988

In 1980, The Executioner's Song, Mailer's novelization of the life of murderer Gary Gilmore, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Mailer spent a longer time writing Ancient Evenings, his novel of Egypt in the XX dynasty (about 1100 B.C.E.) than any of his other books, working on it off and on from 1972 until 1983. It was also a bestseller, although reviews were generally negative.

Harlot's Ghost, Mailer's longest novel (1310 pages), appeared in 1991. It is an exploration of the unspoken dramas of the CIA from the end of WWII to 1965. He performed a huge amount of research for the novel, which is still on CIA reading lists. He ended the novel with the words "To be continued," and planned to write a sequel, titled Harlot's Grave. But other projects intervened and he never wrote it. Harlot's Ghost sold well.

His final novel, The Castle in the Forest, which focused on Hitler's childhood, reached number five on the Times best seller list after publication in January 2007, and received stronger reviews than any of his books since The Executioner's Song. Castle was intended to be the first volume of a trilogy, but Mailer died several months after it was completed. The Castle in the Forest was awarded a Bad Sex in Fiction Award by the Literary Review magazine.[2]

Mailer wrote over 40 books. He published 11 novels over a 59-year stretch.

[edit] Essays

From the mid-1950s, Mailer became known for his counter-culture essays. In 1955, he was one of the founders of The Village Voice and wrote a column, "Quickly," from January to April 1956.[3] In Advertisements for Myself (1959), Mailer's essay "The White Negro"[4] (1957) was a call to Americans to adopt black culture, become hip and be called "a white negro." It is one of the most anthologized essays of the postwar period. He wrote numerous book reviews and essays for Esquire, The New York Review of Books and Dissent Magazine.

[edit] Other

Other works include:

In 1968, he received a George Polk Award for his reporting in Harper's magazine.

In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer produced a play version of The Deer Park (staged at the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village in 1967[5]), and in the late 1960s directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a spontaneous and brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by himself, and Kingsley's brother, played by Rip Torn. In 1987, he adapted and directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal and Isabella Rossellini, which has become a minor camp classic.

[edit] Political activism

A number of Mailer's nonfiction works, such as The Armies of the Night and The Presidential Papers, are political. He covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, and 1996, although his account of the 1996 Democratic convention has never been published. In October 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon. Mailer once said of the Vietnam War: "It is self-evident that the Reader's Digest and Lawrence Welk and Hilton Hotels are organically connected with the Special Forces napalming villages."[6]

Two years later, at the suggestion of his friend the political essayist Noel Parmentel and others, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City, allied with columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for City Council President), proposing New York City secession and creating a 51st state. Their slogan was "throw the rascals in". He came in fourth in a field of five.[7] From 1980 until his death in 2007, he contributed to Democratic Party candidacies for political office.[8]

In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. In 1977, Abbott had read about Mailer's work on The Executioner's Song and wrote to Mailer, offering to enlighten the author about Abbott's time behind bars and the conditions he was experiencing. Mailer, impressed, helped to publish In the Belly of the Beast, a book on life in the prison system consisting of Abbott's letters to Mailer. Once paroled, Abbott committed a murder in New York City six weeks after his release, stabbing to death 22-year-old Richard Adan. Consequently, Mailer was subject to criticism for his role. In a 1992 interview with the Buffalo News, he conceded that his involvement was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in.".[9]

In 1989, Mailer joined with a number of other prominent authors in publicly expressing support for colleague Salman Rushdie in the wake of the fatwa calling for Rushdie's assassination issued by Iran's Islamic government for his having authored The Satanic Verses.[10]

In 2003, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, just before the invasion of Iraq, Mailer said: "Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it."[11]

[edit] Biographical subjects

His biographical subjects included Pablo Picasso, Muhammad Ali, Gary Gilmore and Lee Harvey Oswald. His 1986 off-Broadway play Strawhead, starring his daughter, Kate Mailer, was about Marilyn Monroe. His 1973 biography of Monroe, Marilyn: A Novel Biography was particularly controversial: in its final chapter he stated that she was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. He later admitted that these speculations were "not good journalism."[citation needed]

Despite these problems, the biography was enormously successful and sold more copies than any Mailer book except Naked and the Dead. The book is currently out of print in the United States.

[edit] Personal life

[edit] Marriages, mistresses, and children

Mailer was married six times, and had several mistresses. He had eight biological children by his various wives, and adopted one child. Until he died, he had a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights as well as a house on the Cape Cod oceanfront in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Like many novelists of his generation, Mailer struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout his life.[12]

He was married first in 1944, to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952. They had one child, Susan. Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. They had two daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth. In 1960, Mailer stabbed Adele with a penknife after a party, nearly killing her.[13] He was involuntarily committed to Bellevue Hospital for 17 days; his wife would not press charges, and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault, and was given a suspended sentence.[14][15] While in the short term, Morales made a physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident and its aftermath. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work. [16]

His third wife, whom he married in 1962, and divorced in 1963, was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929–2007), the only daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. The couple had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress. His fourth marriage, in 1963, was to Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. She was the mother of his producer son Michael and his actor son Stephen. The couple divorced in September 1980, after a lengthy court battle.[17] His fifth wife was Carol Stevens, whom he married in 1980, and with whom he previously had a daughter in 1971, Maggie. They were divorced two days after their wedding.

His sixth and last wife, married in 1980, was Norris Church (née Barbara Davis), a former model and painter turned writer. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor, and Mailer informally adopted Matthew Norris, her son by her first husband, Larry Norris. Mailer first met her in 1975, in Russellville, Arkansas, when he was in town visiting an old Army buddy.[18]

[edit] Works with children

In 2005, Mailer co-wrote a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, entitled The Big Empty. In 2007 Random House published his last novel, The Castle in the Forest.

Mailer appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls entitled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" with his son Stephen Mailer.

[edit] Mallory memoir

In 2008, one of his mistresses, Carole Mallory, sold seven boxes of documents and photographs to Harvard University. They contain extracts of her letters, books and journals.[19][20]

[edit] Death

Mailer died of acute renal failure on the morning of November 10, 2007, a month after undergoing lung surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York.[21]

[edit] Quotations from Mailer

  • "I take it for granted that there's a side of me that loves public action, and there's another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And I've learned to alternate the two as matters develop."
  • "There are two kinds of brave men: those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will."
  • "One's condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one. One feels one's being, one becomes aware of the enormous apparatus of nothingness -- the hum of a hi-fi set, the emptiness of a pointless interruption, one becomes aware of the war between each of us, how the nothingness in each of us seeks to attack the being of others, how our being in turn is attacked by the nothingness in others."
  • "The prime responsibility of a woman probably is to be on Earth long enough to find the best mate possible for herself and conceive children who will improve the species."
  • "I don’t hate women, but I think they should be kept in cages."

[edit] Selected bibliography

[edit] Fiction

[edit] Non-fiction

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b "Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With Matching Ego, Dies at 84." New York Times. 2007-11-10.
  2. ^ "Late Mailer wins 'bad sex' award." BBC News. 27 November 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Norman Mailer (1924-2007)."
  5. ^ Guernsey, Otis L. "Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965-1987". Applause 1987. - play review page 78.
  6. ^ [[David Frum |Frum, David]] (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 5. ISBN 0465041957. 
  7. ^ Campaign poster.
  8. ^ "Campaign contributions." Accessed January 25, 2008
  9. ^ Ulin, David L. "Mailer: an ego with an insecure streak." Los Angeles Times. November 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. "Literary World Lashes Out After a Week of Hesitation." New York Times. February 22, 1989.
  11. ^ "Only In America." Commonwealth Club. February 20, 2003.
  12. ^ "The Lives of Norman Mailer". Retrieved on 2008-10-23. 
  13. ^ "Norman Mailer Arrested in Stabbing of Wife at a Party", The New York Times, November 22, 1960. Retrieved April 26, 2008
  14. ^ "Of Time and the Rebel." Time. December 5, 1960. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  15. ^ "Crime and Punishment; Norman Mailer Stabs His Wife At A Party In Their New York Apartment." Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1991. Accessed April 26, 2008.
  16. ^ Millet, Kate. Sexual Politics Virago, 1991. pp. 314-315
  17. ^ Smilgis, Martha (February 26, 1979). "Once Norman's Conquest, the Fourth Mrs. Mailer Fights Her Final Marital Battle". People magazine.,,20073019,00.html. 
  18. ^ "The Mailers: Norman And Norris, Literati In Love". CBS News. February 4, 2001. 
  19. ^ Allyen, Richard. "Mailer's mistress reveals 'real man' in steamy bedroom accounts." Sydney Morning Herald. April 26, 2008
  20. ^ "Mailer Sex Stories Arrive at Harvard." Harvard Crimson. April 26, 2008.
  21. ^ "Author Norman Mailer dies at 84." BBC. 10 November 2007

[edit] Further reading

  • Norman Mailer by Michael K. Glenday. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
  • Radical Fictions and the Novels of Norman Mailer by Nigel Leigh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
  • Norman Mailer: Works and Days by J. Michael and Donna P. Lennon. Westport, MA: Sligo Press, 2000. Comprehensive, annotated primary and secondary bibliography with life chronology.
  • Norman Mailer: The Man and His Work, edited by Robert F. Lucid. Boston: Little, Brown. The first collection of essays on Mailer.
  • Norman Mailer by Philip Bufithis. New York: Ungar, 1978. Perhaps the most readable and reliable study of Mailer's early work.
  • Acts of Regeneration: Allegory and Archetype in the Works of Norman Mailer by Robert J. Begiebing. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980. Fine discussion of Mailer's "heroic consciousness."
  • The Enduring Vision of Norman Mailer by Barry H. Leeds. Bainbridge, WA: Pleasure Boat Studio, 2002.
  • Political Fiction and the American Self by John Whalen-Bridge. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. Subtle examination of Mailer's dual aptitude of representing and resisting American mythologies.
  • Critical Essays on Norman Mailer, edited by J.Michael Lennon: Boston, G.K.Hall and Co., 1986.
  • Norman Mailer, by Richard Poirier. New York: Viking,1972. One of the best studies of Mailer's writing, tracking his career through the early Eighties.
  • Norman Mailer by Richard Jackson Foster. University of Minnesota Press, 1968. Pamphlet.
  • The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer by Barry H. Leeds, New York University Press,1969.
  • Norman Mailer Revisited by Robert Merrill. Twayne, 1992. Contains perhaps the best analyis of The Executioner's Song
  • Mailer: His Life and Times, edited by Peter Manso. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Highly readable, but controversial "oral" biography of Mailer created by cross-cutting interviews with friends, enemies, acquaintances, relatives, wives of Mailer and Mailer himself.
  • Conversations with Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
  • Norman Mailer: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Leo Braudy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Contains useful insights on Miami and the Siege of Chicago.
  • Existential Battles: The Growth of Norman Mailer by Laura Adams. Athens: University of Ohio Press, 1976. Good discussion of early narrators.
  • Time to Murder and Create: The Contemporary Novel in Crisis by John W. Aldridge. New York: David McKay, 1966. Contains Aldridge's important essay on An American Dream.
  • The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk). Contains "The White Negro."
  • The Norman Mailer Review, edited by Phillip Sipiora. New periodical Co-sponsored by the University of South Florida and The Norman Mailer Society (

[edit] External links

[edit] Obituaries

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