|Born:||January 31 1923
Long Branch, New Jersey
|Died:||November 10 2007 (aged 84)
New York City, New York
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. 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.
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.
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. In Advertisements for Myself (1959), Mailer's essay "The White Negro" (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).), 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.
All links retrieved December 10, 2018.
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