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.

The Arts Fuse Reviews Selected Letters

It’s refreshing and more than a little nostalgic to see the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of Mailer’s time through his own combative eyes, before writers were marginalized as influential public figures.

The Cape Cod Times Reviews Letters

In 2002, J. Michael Lennon began reading more than 45,000 letters Mailer had written over 70 years … As you can imagine, Mailer spent a lot of time corresponding with fellow authors and celebrities, but also with friends and family and ordinary people who wrote to him.

Straight Reviews Selected Letters

For sheer rambunctiousness and fecundity, however, few can match Norman Mailer’s Selected Letters, as chosen by his latest biographer from an astonishing 45,000 pieces of correspondence.

9 Books You Need to Read

For fans of the novelist-pugilist, this posthumous fruit of his correspondence — 716 letters out of almost 50,000 — is indispensable. For anyone interested in the intellectual battles of the past 60 years, it provides a detailed road map of the controversies and egos involved. (Correspondents included Jackie Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Henry Kissinger, both Clintons, and pretty much every white writer of his generation.) And for the rest, it’s a subtle document of an unsubtle man’s wit and erudition, even (or especially) when it’s wielded as a weapon.

Library Journal Reviews Selected Letters


A Gentleman of Letters

Perhaps more than any other major writer but Eugene O’Neill, Mailer produced some of the best and the worst examples of American art. His letters are frank about his own uncertainly as to where he stood in the literary pantheon. On bad days, even a brilliant novel like An American Dream could seem like dreck to him. His letters are engaging because when it came to his main occupations—writing novels or thinking about the novels he was going to write—he was utterly honest with himself. All pretense falls away when Mailer goes to work on himself. He is a superb self-critic and also a sensitive critic of his predecessors and contemporaries. It is profitable to read what Mailer has to say about Hemingway, Faulkner, and many other writers. And he is generous with writers who seek his help, offering advice when it is asked for and reading the work of others—although he often has to beg off because of his own demanding writing schedule.

The Great American Novel Buried in Norman Mailer’s Letters

Most great writers are also great talkers, but writing begins where talking ends: in silence. Norman Mailer is one of literature’s great talkers, and his voice—his speaking voice—is crucial to his work. As a founding partner of a new upstart Greenwich Village weekly in the mid-nineteen-fifties, he even came up with its title: the Village Voice. Perhaps no writer of his time endured such keen conflict between his personal voice and his literary voice, and that conflict is at the center of “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer,” edited by J. Michael Lennon.

Man of Letters

Selected Letters receives a mention in the Boston Globe:

Over the course of about 60 years, Norman Mailer, in addition to more than 30 books, wrote some 45,000 letters. About 700 pieces of his correspondence have been published in “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer” (Random House), edited by J. Michael Lennon. Mailer, who died in 2007 at age 84, wrote to Henry Kissinger, the Clintons, Monica Lewinsky, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Lillian Hellman, and many other public figures.

Washington Times Review of Letters

Mr. Lennon (also Mailer’s official archivist) is back with a volume, nearly as thick and heavy, of Mailer’s correspondence (and a small sampling, Mr. Lennon tells us, from some 45,000 items), reflecting the thoughts and concerns of the nearly seven decades that Mailer played a role in American literary life — at times major, at others peripheral, but always a presence.

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