Norman Mailer

From New World Encyclopedia

Norman Mailer
Born: January 31 1923(1923-01-31)
Long Branch, New Jersey
Died: November 10 2007 (aged 84)
New York City, New York
Occupation(s): Novelist
Nationality: American
Literary genre: Fiction

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once. In 1955, Mailer, together with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which began as an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper initially distributed in Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation.

The notion that art should reflect "reality," which began with the rise of Realism in the nineteenth century has intensified in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, with the rise of "reality" television programs and photo-realism in art. This artistic strategy is suitable for a mass audience, since the artistic form is more accessible.


Norman Mailer (born Norman Kingsley Mailer) was born to a well-known Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South Africa-born accountant, and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer's sister, Barbara, was born in 1927.[1] He was brought up in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Boys' High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering. At Harvard, he became interested in writing and published his first story at the age of 18. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In World War II, he served in the Philippines with 112th Cavalry. He was not involved in much combat and completed his service as a cook, but the experience provided enough material for The Naked and the Dead.

Mailer was married six times, and had several mistresses. He had eight biological children by his various wives, and adopted one further child.

  • He was married first in 1944, to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952.
  • Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. In 1960, Mailer stabbed her with a penknife at a party. While Morales made a full physical recovery, in 1997, she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work.
  • His third wife, whom he married in 1962, and divorced in 1963, was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929-2007), the only daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook; by her, he had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress.
  • His fourth marriage, in 1963, was to Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. She was the mother of his producer son, Michael, and his actor son, Stephen.
  • His fifth wife was Carol Stevens, whom he married in 1970, with whom he had a daughter Maggie Alexander, born in 1971. They separated one day after their wedding, and later divorced.
  • His sixth and last wife, married in 1980, was Norris Church (née Barbara Davis), a former model turned writer. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, and Mailer informally adopted Matthew Norris, her son by her first husband, Larry Norris.

For many years, he had a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights as well as a house on the Cape Cod oceanfront in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Like many novelists of his generation, Mailer struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout his life.[2]

Mailer died of acute renal failure on the morning of November 10, 2007, a month after undergoing lung surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York.[3]

Literary career


In 1948, before continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Mailer published The Naked and the Dead, based on his military service in World War II. It was hailed by many as one of the best American wartime novels and named one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library.

Barbary Shore (1951) was a surreal parable of Cold War left politics set in a Brooklyn rooming-house. His 1955 novel, The Deer Park, drew on his experiences working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in the early 1950s. It was initially rejected by six publishers due to its sexual content.


In the mid-1950s, Mailer became increasingly known for his counter-culture essays. In 1955, he was one of the founders of The Village Voice.[4] In Advertisements for Myself (1959), Mailer's essay "The White Negro"[5] (1957), examined violence, hysteria, sex, crime, and confusion in American society. He wrote numerous book reviews and essays for The New York Review of Books and Dissent Magazine.


Other works include: The Presidential Papers (1963), An American Dream (1965), Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967), Armies of the Night (1968, awarded a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award), Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), The Prisoner of Sex (1971), Marilyn (1973), The Fight (1975), The Executioner's Song (1979, awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Ancient Evenings (1983), Harlot's Ghost (1991), Oswald's Tale (1995), The Gospel According to the Son (1997), and The Castle in the Forest (2007).

In 1968, he received a George Polk Award for his reporting in Harper's magazine.

In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer produced a play version of The Deer Park (staged at the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village in 1967).[6]), and in the late 1960s, directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by himself, and Rip Torn that may or may not have been planned. In 1987, he adapted and directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal, which has become a minor camp classic.


A number of Mailer's nonfiction works, such as The Armies of the Night and The Presidential Papers, are political. He covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, and 1996. In 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City, allied with columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for City Council President), proposing New York City secession and creating a 51st state.

In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. In 1977, Abbott had read about Mailer's work on The Executioner's Song and wrote to Mailer, offering to enlighten the author about Abbott's time behind bars and the conditions he was experiencing. Mailer, impressed, helped to publish In the Belly of the Beast, a book on life in the prison system consisting of Abbott's letters to Mailer. Once paroled, Abbott committed a murder in New York City six weeks after his release, stabbing to death 22-year-old Richard Adan. Consequently, Mailer was subject to criticism for his role; in a 1992 interview, in the Buffalo News, he conceded that his involvement was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in."

In 1989, Mailer joined with a number of other prominent authors in publicly expressing support for colleague Salman Rushdie in the wake of the fatwa, or death sentence, issued against Rushdie by Iran's Islamic government for his having authored The Satanic Verses.


His biographical subjects have included Pablo Picasso and Lee Harvey Oswald. His 1986 off-Broadway play, Strawhead, starring his daughter, Kate, was about Marilyn Monroe. His 1973 biography of Monroe was particularly controversial: In its final chapter he stated that she was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. He later admitted that these speculations were "not good journalism."


Mailer was a leading figure of the New Journalism, which reflects the tendency toward greater versimilitude in modern art. The notion that art should reflect "reality," which began with the rise of Realism in the nineteenth century has intensified in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, with the rise of "reality" television programs and photo-realism in art.

He appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls entitled, "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" with his son, Stephen Mailer.

In 2005, he co-wrote a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, titled The Big Empty. In 2007, Random House published his last novel, The Castle in the Forest.

Quotations from Mailer

  • "I take it for granted that there's a side of me that loves public action, and there's another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And I've learned to alternate the two as matters develop."
  • "There are two kinds of brave men: Those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will."

Selected bibliography


  • The Naked and the Dead. New York: Rinehart, 1948.
  • Barbary Shore. New York: Rinehart, 1951.
  • The Deer Park. New York: Putnam's, 1955.
  • An American Dream. New York: Dial, 1965.
  • The Deer Park: A Play. New York: Dial, 1967.
  • The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer. New York: Dell, 1967.
  • Why Are We in Vietnam? New York: Putnam's, 1967.
  • Of Women and Their Elegance. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980
  • Ancient Evenings. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.
  • Tough Guys Don't Dance. New York: Random House, 1984.
  • Harlot's Ghost. New York: Random House, 1991.
  • The Gospel According to the Son. New York: Random House, 1997.
  • The Castle in the Forest. New York: Random House, 2007.


  • The White Negro. San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.
  • Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam's, 1959.
  • The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.
  • Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.
  • The Armies of the Night. New York: New American Library, 1968.
  • Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968. New York: New American Library, 1968.
  • Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.
  • The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
  • St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.
  • Marilyn: a Biography. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
  • The Faith of Graffiti. New York: Praeger, 1974.
  • The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.
  • The Executioner's Song. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979.
  • Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1980.
  • Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.
  • Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretative Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
  • Oswald's Tale:An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996.
  • Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003.
  • The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2003.
  • The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. New York: Nation Books, 2006


  1. New York Times, Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With Matching Ego, Dies at 84. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  2., The Lives of Norman Mailer. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  3. BBC, Author Norman Mailer dies at 84. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  4. The Village Voice, About Us. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  5. Dissent Magazine, "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster." Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  6. Otis L. Guernsey Jr., Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965-1987.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Charters, Ann. The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3
  • Foster, Richard Jackson. Norman Mailer. University of Minnesota Press, 1968. ISBN 9780816651863
  • Glenday, Michael K. Norman Mailer. London: Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 9780333522622
  • Leeds, Barry H. The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer. New York University Press, 1969.
  • Leigh, Nigel. Radical Fictions and the Novels of Norman Mailer. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. ISBN 9780312034641
  • Lennon, Michael, ed. Critical Essays on Norman Mailer. Boston: G.K.Hall and Co., 1986. ISBN 9780816186952
  • Lennon, Michael, ed. Conversations with Norman Mailer. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. ISBN 9780878053520
  • Manso, Peter, ed. Mailer: His Life and Times. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. ISBN 9780671442644
  • Merrill, Robert. Norman Mailer. Twayne, 1978.
  • Poirier, Richard. Norman Mailer. New York: Viking, 1972. ISBN 9780670019175

External links

All links retrieved November 15, 2022.


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