J. Michael Lennon

Archivist, Biographer, Educator

Mike in WSJ

Five Best: Books On Sparring Partners

The Red and the Black By Stendhal (1830) 

1. Arguably the first authentic psychological novel, “The Red and the Black” centers on the career of Julien Sorel, a young Frenchman from the provinces who, like his hero Napoleon, is striking, intelligent and calculating—striking enough to seduce women above his social station; intelligent enough to memorize the entire New Testament; calculating enough to become private secretary to the Marquis de la Mole. Julien becomes the lover of the marquis’s aloof daughter, Mathilde, and rises to the highest tier of Parisian aristocratic society. His first and greatest love, however, is the wife of the mayor of Verrières, Mme. Renal, “a tall well-made woman, who had been the local beauty.” The heart of the novel is the web of subterfuges, quarrels and reunions that comprise Julien and Mme. Renal’s love affair. Near the stunning ending, Stendhal defines the novel as “a mirror carried along a high road. At one minute it reflects your vision of the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet.” His finest novel is a handbook for both romantic dreamers and crass opportunists. 

Read more.

The Reckless Truth-Teller

Mike and John Buffalo Mailer are interviewed in the latest episode of the Open Source podcast “Norman Mailer Turns 100.” 

We are summoning Norman Mailer in his hundredth-birthday season, what could be his revival time, to tell us what happened to his country and ours. Mailer lived and wrote it all: 40 books of eagle-eyed fact and fiction. First as a soldier in the Philippines, in the 1940s; then: epic poet of the Sixties in America; eventually as a celebrity and popular artist of Duke Ellington or Frank Sinatra proportions.

Listen to the full episode on their site.

Mailer in TLS

Mailer’s swaggering machismo outstayed its welcome even in his lifetime, and today his hipster reflections on the “White Negro” might strike readers as both tiresome and offensive. Yet he caught the American imagination as a pundit and cultural critic like few writers before or since.

By Martin Ivens

Norman Mailer boasted to a television audience in 1971, “I’m going to be the champ until one of you knocks me off”. Gore Vidal had just been given a practical demonstration of this literary ambition. Mailer had head-butted him in the green room before the show. As James Marcus writes in his lead review of books published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mailer’s birth, the Brooklyn bruiser took his cue from Ernest Hemingway – “he treated writing and fighting as interchangeable agonies”. Mailer’s swaggering machismo outstayed its welcome even in his lifetime, and today his hipster reflections on the “White Negro” might strike readers as both tiresome and offensive. Yet he caught the American imagination as a pundit and cultural critic like few writers before or since.

Interview on Deep Cover

An interview with Mike discussing Mailer’s Last Days is featured on the January 31, 2023 episode of Deep Cover with host Damen Dynan. Listen on Apple Music.

A Hundred Years of Norman Mailer

Published in time for Mailer’s birthday, Ronald Fried has interviewed J. Michael Lennon about his latest memoir Mailer’s Last Days: New and Selected Remembrances of a Life in Literature, Lennon’s relationship with Mailer, and American literature in general. Fried writes:

At the age of 80, Lennon has lived long enough to see how writers’ reputations change over the decades. Since his death in 2007, Mailer’s reputation is still undergoing a transformation. To writers of my generation, Mailer was like a member of the family, in the good and the bad sense: omnipresent, sometimes disappointing, sometimes appalling, often brilliant, always calling attention to himself, and impossible to ignore. But to many younger literary types, Mailer is close to anathema, for his trafficking in misogynistic and racial stereotypes and the near-fatal stabbing of his wife Adele Morales, among other reasons. I talked with Lennon about his relationship with Mailer, Mailer’s contemporaries, and the challenges he faced as an academic and critic writing a highly personal memoir.

Read the complete interview.

Putative Son

A review of Mailer’s Last Days by Robert Begiebing.

The title essay of J. Michael Lennon’s new book is a diaristic recounting of Mailer’s final illnesses, beginning in 2005, until his death in 2007, written by the man who eventually became Mailer’s closest literary colleague and confidante.  How Lennon became close to Mailer is one tensile truss that binds the book and raises it beyond mere gallimaufry.  The book is an artful amalgam of personal memoirs, critical essays on Mailer and his literary contemporaries, and interviews with and about Mailer.

Norman Mailer’s Eckermann

Carl Rollyson writes: “Lennon knew Mailer for decades, interviewed him relentlessly, appeared in Mailer productions, edited and archived him, wrote his biography, and is probably as close to a modern Eckermann as we can get.”

Read the full review of Mailer’s Last Days in The Sun (subscription required).

Hippocampus Interview

Interviewed by Vicki Mayk

J. Michael Lennon’s literary identity has been intertwined with that of legendary writer Norman Mailer for more than a half century. As the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s authorized biographer and archivist, Lennon has written more about Mailer than anyone. The author of the biography Norman Mailer: A Double Life, published by Simon & Schuster in 2013, Lennon’s writing also has included essays, interviews, and literary criticism about many of Mailer’s contemporaries. In his new book, Mailer’s Last Days: New and Selected Remembrances of a Literary Life,Lennon makes his first foray into memoir.

Lennon is no stranger to the genre: As the co-founder of the Maslow Family Graduate Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University, where he is professor emeritus of English, Lennon has mentored many students writing memoir for their creative thesis. His new book marks the first time he has written his own memoir, tackling a braided form that includes examining the two fathers in his life – his biological father and Norman Mailer, who became another father figure during their long relationship.

Read the full interview at Hippocampus Magazine

MLD Reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly

Lennon (Norman Mailer: Works and Days), Norman Mailer’s archivist and biographer, gathers his own criticism, reviews, and personal essays in this varied collection. “The Archivist’s Apprentice” traces Lennon’s fascination with Mailer back to Lennon’s time in graduate school, when he proposed a doctoral thesis on Mailer, a proposition seen as questionable at the time because Mailer was still alive, and recounts Lennon’s time as Mailer’s archivist’s apprentice in the late 1970s. In the standout “Meeting Mailer,” Lennon recalls writing a fan letter to Mailer that led to a lifelong friendship, during which Lennon’s son thought Mailer “seemed more like a friendly uncle than a famous person.” Lennon also includes a grab bag of his reviews, among them of Don DeLillo’s Zero K (a “milestone”), Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (notable for the book’s “moving depiction of the gaping holes in family life”), and Joan Didion’s South and West (a collection that’s more than just a postmortem push for monetization, Lennon contends). These don’t have quite the same force that Lennon’s personal writing on Mailer does; here, the notoriously pugnacious Mailer comes off as a surprisingly approachable figure. Though it’s not all hits, this one’s worth it for the intimate literary insight. (Nov.)

From Publisher’s Weekly.

Lipton’s in TLS

The Times Literary Supplement has published an excerpt from Norman Mailer’s Lipton’s Journal, edited by J. Michael Lennon, Gerald R. Lucas, and Susan Mailer: “Saint and Psychopath.” The entirety of Lipton’s will be published by what would have been Norman Mailer’s 100th birthday on January 31, 2023.

Read the full version.

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