Norman Mailer

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Mailer, Norman

(Norman Kingsley Mailer), 1923–2007, American writer, b. Long Branch, N.J., grad. Harvard, 1943. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., served in the army during World War II, and at the age of 25 published The Naked and the Dead (1948). A partially autobiographical best seller, it was one of the most significant novels to emerge from the war and it catapulted Mailer to literary fame. His next two novels, Barbary Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955), were generally considered failures. More successful was An American Dream (1966), an exploration of sex, violence, and death in America—themes that Mailer was to revisit throughout his career—through the experiences of his semiautobiographical protagonist.

Mailer, who tended to view himself and his fictional protagonists in a heroic mode, was very much a public figure—pugnacious, self-promoting, and articulate, with a distinctive candid charm. He made frequent appearances at public events, in forums, and on television talk shows, making a variety of often controversial public pronouncements—aesthetic, philosophical, and political. In 1955 Mailer was one of the founders of The Village Voice newspaper, and in 1961 he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City.

The Armies of the Night (1968; Pulitzer Prize), a dramatic account of the 1967 anti–Vietnam War march on Washington, D.C., is one of the earliest works to make use of the personalized style that came to be called New JournalismNew Journalism,
intensely subjective approach to journalistic writing prevalent in the United States during the 1960s and 70s, incorporating stylistic techniques associated with fiction in order to produce a vivid and immediate nonfiction style.
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 and is one of Mailer's most significant books. In it and in later books and essays, he pioneered the usage of novelistic techniques in nonfiction works in which the author is a character who participates in the events he describes. Among his other journalistic works are Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1969), on the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions; A Fire on the Moon (1971), an account of the Apollo 11 moon flight; and the brilliantly novelistic The Executioner's Song (1979; Pulitzer Prize), the story of the life and execution of killer Gary Gilmore, a book that many consider his masterpiece. The Prisoner of Sex (1971) is Mailer's generally oppositional response to the women's liberation movement. He also wrote "interpretive biographies," Oswald's Tale (1995), a study of the life of President Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey OswaldOswald, Lee Harvey,
1939–63, presumed assassin of John F. Kennedy, b. New Orleans. Oswald spent most of his boyhood in Fort Worth, Tex. Later, he attended a Dallas high school, and enlisted (1956) in the Marines and served until 1959.
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, and Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man (1995), on the youth of Pablo PicassoPicasso, Pablo
(Pablo Ruiz y Picasso) , 1881–1973, Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and ceramist, who worked in France. He is generally considered in his technical virtuosity, enormous versatility, and incredible originality and prolificity to have been the
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Mailer's later novels tend to be long and intricate, and they met with decidedly mixed reviews: Ancient Evenings (1983), which Mailer considered his best book, is set in pharaonic Egypt; Harlot's Ghost (1991) is a complex cold-war spy novel; and The Castle in the Forest (2007) is a fictional exploration of the boyhood of Adolf Hitler. A shorter detective novel, Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984), was made into a film in 1985. He also wrote, directed, and acted in several movies, e.g., Maidstone (1970). Among his other works are the nonfiction The White Negro (1958), Advertisements for Myself (1959), Marilyn (1973), a study of Marilyn MonroeMonroe, Marilyn,
1926–62, American movie actress, b. Los Angeles as Norma Jean Baker or Norma Jeane Mortenson. Raised in orphanages after 1935 and first married at 14, Monroe, who began her career as a pin-up model, became a world-famous sex symbol and, after her death, a
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, and Mind of an Outlaw (2013), an essay collection. During his long and prolific career, Mailer published more than 30 books.


See the large retrospective anthology of his work, The Time of Our Time (1998), and anthology of his writings on writing, The Spooky Art (2003); J. M. Lennon, ed., Pontifications: Interviews (1982), Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988), and Selected Letters of Norman Mailer (2014); memoir, A Ticket to the Circus, by his sixth wife, N. Church Mailer (2010); biographies by H. Mills (1982), P. Manso (1986), C. Rollyson (1991), M. V. Dearborn (1999), and J. M. Lennon (2013); studies by B. H. Leeds (1969, 2002), L. Braudy, ed. (1972), R. Poirier (1972), J. Radford (1975), R. Merrill (1978, 1992), S. Cohen (1979), J. M. Lennon, ed. (1986), H. Bloom, ed. (1986, repr. 2003), J. Wenke (1987), N. Leigh (1990), M. K. Glenday (1995), and B. H. Leeds (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mailer, Norman


Born Jan. 31, 1923, in Long Branch, N. J. American author and essayist.

Mailer was educated as an engineer. During World War II he served in the navy in the Pacific. In The Naked and the Dead (1948; Russian translation, 1972), Mailer’s condemnation of militarism and fascistic elements in the US Army is combined with a naturalistic depiction of everyday life. In his later novels, Barbary Shore (1951), The Deer Park (1955), An American Dream (1965), and Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967), Freudian motifs become more apparent; satire on the American way of life is found next to existentialist views. In the 1960’s, Mailer was an active supporter of the movement against the war in Vietnam. His documentary reports The Armies of the Night (1968) and Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968; Russian translation, 1971) brought him wide popularity.


Advertisements for Myself. New York, 1959.
Of a Fire on the Moon. London, 1970.


Istoriia amerikanskoi literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1971.
Geismar, M. American Moderns. New York, 1958.
Kaufmann, D. L. Norman Mailer. London-Amsterdam, 1969.
Poirier, R. Norman Mailer. New York, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mailer, Norman

(1923–  ) writer; born in Long Branch, N.J. He grew up in Brooklyn, excelled in the sciences in school, and majored in engineering at Harvard (B.S. 1943); but having written short stories and a novel before graduation, he was already committed to writing. He was drafted into the U.S. Army (1944–46) and volunteered for combat in the Pacific. After the war, he enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris (1947–49) to take advantage of the G.I. Bill while writing. He became an overnight sensation with his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), which at the time seemed rather shocking in its portrayal of men at war. His next two novels—Barbary Shore (1951) and Deer Park (1955)—pleased neither critics nor readers and he turned to expressing his increasingly more extremist social and political philosophy in magazine essays that were eventually collected in volumes such Advertisements for Myself (1959) and Cannibals and Christians (1966). After his novel The American Dream (1965) was generally dismissed as too outré for realistic Americans, he tended to concentrate on nonfiction works in which he impressed his own self onto public events or into others' lives—from the journey to the moon (Of a Fire on the Moon, 1970) to Marilyn Monroe's life (Marilyn, 1973). Meanwhile, his real-world doings and persona would often threaten to overwhelm his literary career; he seemed to be constantly engaged in verbal quarrels with such as Gore Vidal, in divorce proceedings with his various wives (one of whom he stabbed), or in contests to prove that he was the world's heavyweight champion of everything (actually engaging in boxing matches, running for mayor of New York City in 1960, and generally promoting himself as the heir of Ernest Hemingway). He also got distracted by becoming a producer, director, and actor in several bad movies. When he was at his best, however, as in the march on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, an event that led to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Armies of the Night (1968), he was still an inimitably potent voice. Although his later novels, such as Ancient Evenings (1984) and Harlot's Ghost (1991), seemed like bids for the Nobel Prize, many would agree that he deserved it anyway, for his total work represents a truly resonant and creative attempt to probe the mysteries of contemporary individuals and society.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Kaufman was much more than a Norman Mailer scholar and full-throated enthusiast.
The prize awarded by the Norman Mailer Center and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony was presented to Pamuk by editor, writer and publisher Tina Brown, at the Center's Annual Benefit Gala, held Tuesday in New York City.
One of the most beautiful, but also the most chilling pieces of boxing prose I ever read came from the typewriter of Norman Mailer, describing the moment Benny Paret died in a boxing ring at the hands of Emile Griffith.
Many of his most notable nonfiction books, including The Armies of the Night (1968), do, however, have as a major character, one "Norman Mailer," who also appears in other volumes in various guises: "Aquarius," "The Prizewinner," and "Aesthetic Investigator." Wolfe was an accomplished short story writer, while Mailer, owing to financial pressures, gave less and less time to that genre.
"With great sorrow, the family of Norman Mailer announces his passing on November 10, at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York City," a family statement said.
I'm sure Norman Mailer once said 'there aren't many good things about getting old but one is you don't give a f*** anymore'.
Humes, Norman Mailer, William Styron, George Plimpton, Timothy Leary, Paul Auster, Russell Hemenway.
US author Norman Mailer has died at the age of 84 of renal failure.
Norman Mailer, left, the macho prince of American letters, has died of renal failure.
CONTROVERSIAL American author Norman Mailer has died at the age of 84.
LEGENDARY writer Norman Mailer died of kidney failure yesterday aged 84.
Acclaimed novelist Norman Mailer is recovering in a New York City hospital after surgery to remove scar tissue around his lung, his daughter-in-law said yesterday.