Mike interviewed on Dialogue.
[Lennon’s] pruning proves indispensable: having given himself over to the fanatical labour of making a selection from more than 45,000 letters, Lennon presents us with 716 key missives, dating from 1940 to Mailer’s death in 2007.
Mailer, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, wrote 44 books and also produced one of the largest troves of letters in American life. J Michael Lennon, author of a 2013 Mailer biography, worked with the author over the last 30 months of his life to sift through 45,000 missives he wrote to 4,000 people, narrowing the selection down to 714.
Perhaps more than any other major writer but Eugene O’Neill, Mailer produced some of the best and the worst examples of American art. His letters are frank about his own uncertainly as to where he stood in the literary pantheon.
To celebrate the release of Starve the Vulture — the latest release in Akashic’s Kaylie Jones Books imprint — J. Michael Lennon spoke with Jason Carney about his inspirations, writing a memoir, and the differences between poetry and prose:
Explain how you came to do the biography. ¶ I was the understudy to write the biography of Mailer for a number of years. The original biographer was Robert F. Lucid, a professor at Penn and a friend of Mailer’s going back to the late Fifties. . . .
Most great writers are also great talkers, but writing begins where talking ends: in silence. Norman Mailer is one of literature’s great talkers, and his voice—his speaking voice—is crucial to his work. As a founding partner of a new upstart Greenwich Village weekly in the mid-nineteen-fifties, he even came up with its title: the Village Voice. Perhaps no writer of his time endured such keen conflict between his personal voice and his literary voice, and that conflict is at the center of “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer,” edited by J. Michael Lennon.