Today would have been the 90th birthday of Norman Mailer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and journalist who also happened to write some enormously entertaining letters in his lifetime. Below are just three of the many thousands.
This book amply proves that size still matters: a big life needs a big book, in this case 948 authorised pages. For 60 years, from 1948 when he published The Naked and the Dead to his death in 2007, Mailer hardly stopped to draw breath. The sheer egotistical excess of written and oral material is both a biographer’s dream and nightmare; but Lennon, unlike his subject, resists getting punch drunk, keeping the literary wild man caged though still capable of self harm.
In the Mailer Archive at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas, there are 222 boxes of his correspondence, each holding about 190 letters, or a total of 42,000 letters. They run from the late 1930s to about 2005, about 70-years worth. It is one of the largest major author correspondence collections in the world. The letters vary in length, of course, running from one sentence to 4,000 words. On average, they are about 500 words in length and so the total runs to 20 millions of words. It took me five years to read them all once and to read 3,500 of them four or more times.
Reading this utterly gripping and meticulous life of the famously combative Norman Mailer is as good as meeting him in the flesh.
Mike Lennon remembers when he and Norman Mailer became acquainted. “I saw him on the Dick Cavett show, the famous show when he was on with Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner, and they got into an imbroglio over various issues,” Lennon said. “I wrote him a letter and told him that I thought Vidal had maligned him unfairly. Lo and behold, I got a wonderful long letter back from him.” Then a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Lennon says he was “quite shocked and moved” that the famous author would write him back.
Author J. Michael Lennon will visit the Provincetown Public Library on Friday, August 15 at the invitation of the Board of Library Trustees, to present his New York Times Editor’s Choice book, Norman Mailer: A Double Life, at 5pm in the Marc Jacobs Reading Room. As the current president of the Norman Mailer Society, Lennon will also […]
The personification of cool, however, continued to be the hipster. Norman Mailer, a close reader of Anatole Broyard, was clearly influenced by Broyard’s essays on the subject, but made the connection to black culture even more explicit in “The White Negro.”
Bogging down in J. Michael Lennon’s biography of Norman Mailer, A Double Life, just about the point where I’d have expected. The Naked and the Dead is a bestseller and Mailer’s trying to cope with his newly acquired celebrity—mostly by sleeping with as many women as he can find time to—hanging out in Hollywood, looking to sell the screen rights and struggling to come up with an idea for his next novel.