Archivist, Biographer, Educator

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Put Everything In

A review of A Double Life from Barry H. Leeds from The Mailer Review Volume 7, 2013.

Many people believe they know much of Norman Mailer’s life and work. Virtually no one knows it all. This long-awaited volume does much to close that gap. J. Michael Lennon, Mailer’s archivist and confidante of many years, armed with his access to all Mailer’s letters, interviews with virtually all the intimates and principals in his life, and all the weighty Mailer papers which Lennon himself was instrumental in collecting and categorizing, does an exemplary job of presenting Mailer, the man and the writer. This is no puff piece or hagiography: Mailer told Lennon toward the end of his life, to “put everything in,” and he has: triumphs, disasters and all the warts.

Mount Hope Interviews Mike

Mount Hope with Mike Lennon

Stormin’ Norman

Norman Mailer entered Harvard in the fall of 1939, just as World War II began. His famous novel about part of that war, The Naked and the Dead, was published in 1948, and at age 25, like Lord Byron, he awoke to find himself famous. Sixty years later, looking back on the book’s immense success—it topped the New York Times Book Review’s bestseller list for 11 consecutive weeks and remained on that list for 62 more—he commented on the experience of sudden fame: “I knew I’d be a celebrity when I came back to America [he and his wife were living in Paris] and I felt very funny towards it, totally unprepared. .  .  . I’ve always seen myself as an observer. And now I knew, realized, that I was going to be an actor on the American stage, so to speak.”

NORMAN MAILER: A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon. (Simon & Schuster, $20.) Lennon, who as Mailer’s authorized biographer had access to a trove of unpublished letters and papers, looks unflinchingly at the life of the towering American novelist and journalist who dissected the zeitgeist from the 1950s until his death in 2007. “There’s not a paragraph in this enormous book that doesn’t contain a nugget of something you should have known or wish you had known,” Graydon Carter wrote here.

Bio Top Paperback

Norman Mailer Scan 1

Bio: A Times Book of the Year

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.

Bio Reviewed by Sunday Times

Mike Lennon Remembers Norman Mailer

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.

Jewish Book Council Reviews Bio

Lennon captures Mailer’s enormous drive to master his craft, to experiment with form and genre, to build a reputation, and to contend with the large issues of his country and culture for six decades. This biography is not only indispensable for students of Mailer, but also for anyone interested in taking the pulse of the United States through those decades. More and more, Mailer put himself on the stages of literary and political history, shaping both through his participation and shaping our collective memory through his influential, if sometimes abrasive, representations.

Writer’s Series with Dawn Tripp

Sunday, April 27, 3:00 – 5:00 pm

Westport author, Dawn Tripp, and Partners Village Store present the Writer’s Series. The event will be a dynamic, open and interactive discussion with the author about the writing process, the work of creating a story, and publishing. Books will be available for signing at the conclusion of the talk.

Norman Mailer: A Double Life by J. Michael Lennon, Mailer archivist and authorized biographer.

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