On November 3, 1960, five days before John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon for the presidency by less than one percent of the popular vote, Norman Mailer wrote to Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline. He was replying to her letter thanking him for his extraordinarily favorable report on her husband’s campaign, an essay (published in Esquire magazine three weeks before the election) titled “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.”
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.
In 1948, a 25-year-old World War II veteran leaped into prominence with a number one best-selling novel about his combat experience in the Pacific, The Naked and the Dead. Over the next 60 years he wrote across a range of genres: biography and memoir, a column in the Village Voice, crime and sports narratives, poetry and short stories, several film scripts, and ten more novels of astounding variety.