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Mailer, Norman 1923-2007 (Norman Kingsley Mailer)

Mailer, Norman 1923-2007 (Norman Kingsley Mailer)


See index for CA sketch: Born January 31, 1923, in Long Branch, NJ; died of kidney failure, November 10, 2007, in New York, NY. Novelist, literary journalist, essayist, social historian, and editor. Mailer was a talented and prolific author whose ebullient lifestyle sometimes made him the story as well as the storyteller, and that was the way he seemed to like it. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), based on experience he acquired as a soldier in World War II and published when he was only twenty-five years old, leaped quickly to the top of the New York Times best-seller list and stayed there for nearly three months. It was a critical sensation and possibly the only critical consensus of opinion that its author would see for a very long time. The novel catapulted Mailer into the literary limelight, where he remained, for better or worse, for the rest of his life.

Mailer's next novels did not fare so well, and he drifted into journalism and nonfiction. In the 1950s he was instrumental in founding the alternative weekly newspaper the Village Voice, and he wrote for avant-garde magazines like Dissent, Esquire, and Partisan Review. One of his contributions was the controversial essay "The White Negro," later collected in Advertisements for Myself (1959), in which Miller's views on violence, death, rebellion, bravado, and picket-fence America appeared in print so clearly and forcefully that they might as well have drawn a battle line. Mailer's life as a celebrity was also beginning to reflect his combative approach to life. He married frequently, brawled often, drank to excess, dismissed women as fit only for breeding purposes, and delivered vocal and often vulgar castigations of anything and anyone who got in his way. Then, in the 1960s, Mailer distinguished himself with The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History (1968), which introduced a dramatically effective genre called New Journalism, a novelistic and subjective presentation of historical events—in this case, an anti-Vietnam protest march on the Pentagon in 1967—with the reporter (Mailer himself) in the central role. The book earned him his first Pulitzer Prize (interestingly, in the fiction category), the first of several National Book Awards, and the highly coveted George Polk Memorial Award for journalism. Mailer received his second Pulitzer in the nonfiction category for The Executioner's Song (1979), a collaboration with researcher Lawrence Schiller on a novelistic treatment of the true story of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who requested execution by the State of Utah. In this rare instance, the author's voice was submerged, allowing the authentic voices and thoughts of Gilmore and the other characters to reveal themselves. Critics were stunned by his accomplishment. In the 1980s and 1990s Mailer's age and health seemed to slow him down, calming his notorious ego and pugilistic attitude. He once claimed that most of his writings contained elements of autobiography. It may have been so, for most of his writings during these years failed to match the contentious brilliance of his earlier work. He did revive sparks of the critics' ire with the novel The Gospel according to the Son (1997), in which his first-person account from Jesus's point of view prompted inferences that Mailer saw himself in that role. Thus, he maintained his "advertisements for himself" nearly to the end of his life.



Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dearborn, Mary V., Mailer: A Biography, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

Mailer, Norman, Advertisements for Myself, Putnam (New York, NY), 1959.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2007, pp. A1, A22-A23.

New York Times, November 11, 2007, pp. A1, A30.

Washington Post, November 11, 2007, pp. A1, A6.

Times (London, England), November 12, 2007, p. 53.

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