Edited by Mailer’s authorized biographer and archivist, J. Michael Lennon, Selected Letters of Norman Mailer collects the finest examples of Mailer’s epistolary art, letters written from 1940 when he was a sophomore at Harvard, to the summer of 2007, a few months before his death at 84. Mailer’s correspondents range from presidents to incarcerated murderers. He wrote to Jacqueline Kennedy and to Jack Abbott, Henry Kissinger and Marlon Brando, Bill and Hillary and John and Yoko, as well as army buddies, college pals, girlfriends and numerous family members.
Outside his family, two of his oldest friends, leftist intellectual Jean Malaquais, whom he met in 1947, and Mickey Knox, an actor he met the following year, received the most letters, followed by two literary critics, Diana Trilling and John W. Aldridge. Abbott, the convicted murderer whose literary abilities Mailer praised, and Eiichi Yamanishi, his Japanese translator, also had lengthy exchanges with him. Here is a partial list of the writers he wrote to: Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Lillian Ross, Dwight Macdonald, Gore Vidal, William Styron, Vance Bourjaily, James Jones, James Baldwin, T.S. Eliot (just once, not mailed), Truman Capote, Henry Miller, William F. Buckley, Kathy Perutz, Don Carpenter, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, George Plimpton, Larry L. King, Kate Millett, John Updike, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo, and Andrew O’Hagan.
The 716 letters in this edition provide a vivid depiction of the stages of Mailer’s career as a writer, his complicated personal relations, and innumerable meditations, musings and asides on the touchstones of his life: ambition, identity and a raging thirst for experience.