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He challenged our thoughts on sex, violence, and politics. His public brawls and eccentric behaviour often trumped, not only his voice, but also his outstanding literary accomplishments.
Norman Mailer, holder of two Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards, was a prolific author who wrote compelling prose about the good and bad in humanity using both fiction and nonfiction as his medium. He was the author of over 40 books with an ego large enough to ensure that his personal insecurities were somewhat obscured.
He proclaimed himself to be an American literary champion. With sixty years in the public eye, whether through book releases, book signings, public appearances, lectures, or interviews, Norman Mailer had a significant impact on the literary scene of Post-war America.
A selected bibliography of his broad-ranging and controversial content is compiled below for those of you who can't think of what he wrote off the top of your head. He was the Mike Tyson of fiction, hitting readers hard and fast with his writing, commentary, and opinions.
Mailer's words erupted on the reading public in 1948 with his American novel The Naked And The Dead. Eleven years, and a number of books later, his prose shifted from concentrating upon war stories to focusing more upon himself. For example, the release of Advertisements For Myself is a creation of blatant self-promotion.
He was a member of that generation of writers – including Saul Bellow, John Updike, Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, and Philip Roth – who had each appointed himself the task of delivering the Great American Novel. Total disregard for the public opinion that more than one great American novel had already been written was the fashion of this independent collective. They simply ignored the accomplished works of Fitzgerald, Melville, Twain, Wharton, James, and Hemingway, making the literary scene of their time their very own.
To be sure, Norman Mailer did do something that most authors only dream of doing: He continued making a significant mark on the literary scene long after the immediate Post-War era and will be eternally remembered for his writing accomplishments.
Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, his ancestors were Russian Jews, and their last name was Anglicised and given to his grandparents when they immigrated. No one in his family can actually recall the original sir name. It has been lost in the records of Ellis Island.
One day, after becoming famous in his own right, he was having a discussion with Gore Videl who offered him some writing advice that still stands today: Never miss an opportunity to be on television, never be shy about facing the public, and never turn down an interview. The last public appearance he attended was in 2000 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
An interesting insight into Mr. Mailer's opinion on what can drive an author's career into a head-on wreck with the future is excerpted from his book Conversations With Norman Mailer:
Interviewer: "Well, then, what can ruin a first-rate writer?"
Mailer: "Booze, pot, too much sex, too much failure in one's private life, too much attrition, too much recognition, too little recognition, frustration. Nearly everything in the scheme of things works to dull a first-rate talent. But the worst probably is cowardice – as one gets older, one becomes aware of one's cowardice, the desire to be bold, which once was a joy, gets heavy with caution and duty. And finally there's apathy. About the time it doesn't seem too important any more to be a great writer, you know you've slipped far enough to be doing your work now on the comeback trail."
Mailer resided in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with his wife of 33 years, Norris Church Mailer, and maintained an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to his wife, he is survived by nine children, Susan, Danielle, Elizabeth, Kate, Michael, Stephen, Maggie, Matthew, and John Buffalo; ten grandchildren; a sister, Barbara Wasserman, and a nephew Peter Alson.
Our collective condolences go out to his family.
The Naked And The Dead. New York: Rinehart, 1948.
The White Negro. San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.
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