Cover image for Selected letters of Norman Mailer
Title:
Selected letters of Norman Mailer
Author:
Mailer, Norman.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Correspondence. Selections
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2014]
Physical Description:
xviii, 867 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Summary:
"Mailer wrote almost 50,000 letters over the course of his life, keeping a copy of almost every one of them. He corresponded with presidents and politicians, artists and athletes, writers and editors, students, antagonists, fans, friends, his children, [and] his loves, including his beloved sixth wife, Norris Church Mailer. Here are the letters of a precocious sixteen-year-old arriving from Brooklyn at Harvard. Here are the letters depicting the horrors of the war in the Pacific from a soldier's point of view. Here are the letters describing a young writer's struggle with his first novel ... And here are the many, many letters of a man who spent sixty years in the spotlight"--
Language:
English
Contents:
1940s -- 1950s -- 1960s -- 1970s -- 1980s -- 1990s -- 2000s.
Added Author:
ISBN:
9781400066230
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Kenmore Library PS3525.A4152 Z48 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

A genuine literary event--an illuminating collection of correspondence from one of the most acclaimed American writers of all time
 
Over the course of a nearly sixty-year career, Norman Mailer wrote more than 30 novels, essay collections, and nonfiction books. Yet nowhere was he more prolific--or more exposed--than in his letters. All told, Mailer crafted more than 45,000 pieces of correspondence (approximately 20 million words), many of them deeply personal, keeping a copy of almost every one. Now the best of these are published--most for the first time--in one remarkable volume that spans seven decades and, it seems, several lifetimes. Together they form a stunning autobiographical portrait of one of the most original, provocative, and outspoken public intellectuals of the twentieth century.
 
Compiled by Mailer's authorized biographer, J. Michael Lennon, and organized by decade, Selected Letters of Norman Mailer features the most fascinating of Mailer's missives from 1940 to 2007--letters to his family and friends, to fans and fellow writers (including Truman Capote, James Baldwin, and Philip Roth), to political figures from Henry Kissinger to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and to such cultural icons as John Lennon, Marlon Brando, and even Monica Lewinsky.
 
Here is Mailer the precocious Harvard undergraduate, writing home to his parents for the first time and worrying that his acceptances by literary magazines were "all happening too easy." Here, too, is Mailer the soldier, confronting the violence of war in the Pacific, which would become the subject of his masterly debut novel, The Naked and the Dead : "[I'm] amazed how casually it fits into . . . daily life, how very unhorrible it all is." Mailer the international celebrity pledges to William Styron, "I'm going to write every day, and like Lot's Wife I'm consigning myself to a pillar of salt if I dare to look back," while the 1980s Mailer agonizes over the fallout from his ill-fated friendship with Jack Henry Abbott, the murderer who became his literary protégé. ("The continuation of our relationship was depressing for both of us," he confesses to Joyce Carol Oates.) At last, he finds domestic--and erotic--bliss in the arms of his sixth wife, Norris Church ("We bounce into each other like sunlight").
 
Whether he is reflecting on the Kennedy assassination, assessing the merits of authors from Fitzgerald to Proust, or threatening to pummel William Styron, the brilliant, pugnacious Norman Mailer comes alive again in these letters. The myriad faces of this artist and activist, lover and fighter, public figure and private man, are laid bare in this collection as never before.

Praise for Selected Letters of Norman Mailer
 
"Extraordinary." -- Vanity Fair

"As massive as the life they document . . . the autobiography [Mailer] never wrote . . . a kind of map, from the hills and rice paddies of the Philippines through every victory and defeat for the rest of the century and beyond." -- Esquire

"The shards and winks at Mailer's own past that are scattered throughout the letters . . . are so tantalizing. They glitter throughout like unrefined jewels that Mailer took to the grave." -- The New Yorker
 
"Indispensable . . . a subtle document of an unsubtle man's wit and erudition, even (or especially) when it's wielded as a weapon." -- New York
 
"Umpteen pleasures to pluck out and roll between your teeth, like seeds from a pomegranate." -- The New York Times


Author Notes

Norman Kingsley Mailer was born on January 31, 1923 in Long Branch, N. J. and then moved with his family to Brooklyn, N. Y. Mailer later attended Harvard University and graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Mailer served in the Army during World War II, and later wrote, directed, and acted in motion pictures. He was also a co-founder of the Village Voice and edited Disssent for nine years.

Mailer has written several books including: The Armies of the Night, which won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and a Polk Award; and The Executioner's Song, which won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. He published his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, in 2007. He died of acute renal failure on November 10, 2007.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Lots of people didn't care for Norman Mailer personally, because he could be pretty arrogant. And lots of readers, even to this day, don't like his work, in which they perceive misogyny. Nevertheless, Mailer rests rather assuredly in the pantheon of major post-WWII novelists, which means his ­collected ­correspondence has significance in the history of American letters. According to editor Lennon, who knew Mailer for many years and edited several of his books, Mailer's letters constitute an extraordinary trove of epistles, one of the largest in American life. The letters included here are arranged by decade, the 1940s through the 2000s, and the reader will see Mailer's openness as he discusses writerly concerns during the rising arc of his career. But concomitantly, personal issues also find their way into his correspondence, and it is there we observe egotism but also frustration, and from this mix emerges a writer who, yes, perhaps many of us would not have wanted to have a beer with but nevertheless offers the fascinating complexities of a deeply intelligent individual.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Mailer's ambition to be the greatest writer of his generation is made clear in his stylish, sophisticated letters. The novelist wrote at least 45,000 over the course of his long life, and this fascinating and lively volume reprints many hundreds (716, to be precise). The book begins in 1940, when Mailer was a Harvard undergraduate, and ends with just weeks before his death in 2007; his letters span from the atom bomb to the Huffington Post, in other words. A list of Mailer's correspondents reads like a guide to 20th-century history and literature: Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Fidel Castro, Hunter S. Thompson, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and dozens of others. Mailer's extensive correspondence with Jack Abbott reveals that Mailer remained friendly with him, even years after Abbott returned to prison for manslaughter. Mailer's legendary combative side is also on display, as when he tells Gordon Lish, "what your work catches is everything I detest about modern life." Lennon proves an ideal guide, expertly assembling a tidal wave of letters into a tidy, chronological selection. In the end, Mailer's letters stand as the best autobiography available for such a complicated and extraordinary life. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Mailer (1923-2007) composed more than 45,000 letters over 70 years. This fractional selection of 716 of them covers the 1940s to 2007. In style and temper, the missives are quintessential Mailer: self-serving, confrontational, and vituperative; but sometimes subdued, chummy, and intimate. Notwithstanding his Harvard University degree in aeronautical engineering, Mailer's true calling was writing, as evidenced in his enthusiastic notes about composing fiction and contributing stories to the Harvard Advocate. Mailer's army letters from the Philippines to his parents, siblings, and first wife report horrific experiences which he incorporated in his acclaimed war novel, The Naked and the Dead. With the exception of his creative nonfiction, The Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song, approbation was not extended to his subsequent work and this collection includes a maelstrom of belligerent correspondence to reviewers. Alternatively, Mailer's reports to several publishers, editors, and critics (Irving Howe, Diana Trilling, Joseph Aldridge) are unpretentious in their self-analysis; and those to fellow writers William Styron, James Jones, Irwin Shaw, and Truman Capote are complimentary. The few, brief missives to Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, and Philip Roth, among others, seem to be included as reader appeal to name recognition. VERDICT Lennon (Norman Mailer: A Double Life) has appended meticulously fulsome explanatory notes to this collection. For fans of the alpha-Mailer.-Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1940s Norman Kingsley Mailer, born in 1923 to immigrant parents, had written a fair amount of juvenilia, mainly adventure stories, from the ages of eight to twelve, then nothing more until he arrived at Harvard in September 1939. In each of his four college years, he signed up for elective writing courses, and he wrote, all told, approximately thirty short stories. He published three of these in the Harvard Advocate, and one of them, "The Greatest Thing in the World," won a national college contest sponsored by Story Magazine, where it appeared in November 1941. A few months earlier, he had completed the manuscript of his first novel, "No Percentage." Set in two places he knew well, Brooklyn and the Jersey Shore, the novel (still unpublished) ends with a hitchhiking trip to North Carolina, one that Mailer made in the summer of 1941. Just after the Pearl Harbor attack, he met Beatrice Silverman, a student at Boston University, who later became his first wife. In the summer of 1942, he worked for a week as an orderly at Boston Mental Hospital and wrote a play, titled "The Naked and the Dead," about the sadistic treatment of the inmates. It has never been performed, but it created a lifelong interest in drama. In his senior year, he began another novel, A Transit to Narcissus (published in 1978), also inspired by his experience as an orderly, which he finished shortly before his March 1944 induction into the army. While he was in the service, a combat novella he wrote at Harvard, "A Calculus at Heaven," was published in an anthology, but his most important work of the 1940s was The Naked and the Dead, which he wrote after his discharge in May 1946. Based on his experience during the Luzon campaign of early 1945, in the Philippines, the novel was critically acclaimed and became an immediate bestseller after its publication in May 1948. Slabs of it were taken wholesale from the hundreds of letters he wrote to Beatrice while overseas. 1. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer Grays Hall 11-­12, Harvard College February 18, 1940 Dear Folks, I'm quite the busy boy now with tryouts for the Advocate & Red Book. I've dropped the Lampoon because 1) I can't write humorously, 2) there is a $100 initiation fee. All of which brings me to the Advocate. I tried out last Friday and had a nice time, you know free beer, etc. For the Advocate you have to submit 3 pieces worthy of publication although not necessarily published for lack of space. You also have to sell 10 subscriptions and pay an initiation fee of $40.00. Now the Advocate is like a club, and has many fellows worth meeting. (One of them is Bruce Barton Jr., representative's son.) If you think I should or should not go on with it let me know. It means spending at least $50--­subscriptions bought personally--­of which $40 would only be spent after getting in so the money would not be risked. If you feel it is not worth it from a money standpoint let me know immediately. (Let me know immediately, too if you think it is worth it.) Naturally it is up to you, and do as you see right. Of course it's not a matter of buying your way in since you have to be good to be accepted & it is quite an honor. However if I know I can't make it because the initiation fee is too high, I don't want to put in any work on it. If you don't understand fully what I'm talking about write your answer anyway with the necessary reservations. I'll know what to do since of course I know just what the odds are. Nothing much else right now. Lots of love, Norman P.S. I'm sorry. The Advocate is the literary magazine. P.P.S. Tell Babby to keep up the good work. P.P.P.S. Hope the cold spell helps the [heating oil] business. P.P.P.P.S. Was happy to hear about your anniversary party. Cake hasn't come yet, but I'll thank Aunt Nan for it anyway. Don't undeceive her. P.P.P.P.P.S. Fill in the financial blanks for the scholarship soon. I don't want to delay forever. P.P.P.P.P.P.S. If it means a sacrifice to you to pay the Advocate fee, you can tell me right now. Promise. P.8. Might send the enclosed picture to S[outh] A[frica] as a twin to Uncle Alex. Fellow's name is Waterous. 2. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer Claverly Hall, Harvard College March 16, 1941 Dear Folks, Sorry you thought I felt depressed about Physics. Futile is a better word. I studied a lot, for the test, and knew my stuff. I just can't understand it. The rest is good news ↓. I got a 100 in a Statics test last Tuesday. I handed in both scholarship & T.S.E. (job) blanks. (You have nothing to fill out for the Temporary Student Employment stuff.) I just finished a 3500 word story yesterday. Everybody has been enthusiastic about the long thing. The Advocate liked it immensely and said the "suspense was terrific." I've got two stories accepted, and should get a third one too. (They won't be published, you realize.) I happen to know, though, that they're a bunch of snobs, and Brooklyn may go against me. Before I take out a subscription for you, I'm going to have a show-­down with them. Don't worry, I won't jeopardize my chances. I haven't heard whether Aunt Nan is coming up yet. At present I'll leave somewhere between Wednesday and Friday of week after next. I'm anxious to get home already. Love, Norm [postscript on envelope] Mom: Will you try and get me two $1.10 tickets to Fantasia. Any night during vacation will do. But try early; understand it's difficult to get seats. 3. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer postcard, April 9, 1941 Dear Folks, Advocate initiation tonight. My play. Definitely are going to print my story ["The Greatest Thing in the World"]. Magazine supposed to come out next week, but this is uncertain. Will be unable to write again until Sunday. Have Physics exam Tues. so may not be able to make it a letter. Love, Norm 4. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer April 13, 1941 Dear Folks, Am writing a letter to enclose the term bill. The rest is good news. Magazine with my story comes out next week some time. My story may be the first one, and if it is, it will be the first time in several years that a debut has led off in the Advocate. Got an A in Physics for my April Hour Grade. Only mark I got. Story magazine runs an annual spring contest for college men's short stories. Each college selects a story or two & sends it on to Story where the best one is awarded a prize and published. Out of 45 contributors at Harvard my big story was sent on with another fellow's to the big judging. My chances of winning are of course slight, but I still feel good at winning the Harvard part. [Robert Gorham] Davis liked my negro-­shower room story very much and wants me to send it on to New Yorker. It's all happening too easy. Also, I've now written the first 8,000 words of my novelette which has consumed 39 typewriter sheets with hand-­writing. I wrote 2000 Friday night, 5000 Saturday, and 1000 in the last hour. That's all for a few days though for I've got a Physics test Tues. The Advocate initiation was fun. It's a long story & I'll tell you about it when I get home. I'm enclosing a playbill. Don't worry about the bill; they'll be only too glad to send it to you. Love, Norman P.S. My back is o.k. So is my cough. 5. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer [postcard, mid-­May, 1941] Dear Folks, Will borrow a tux. Don't worry about my drinking. I was kidding you a little. No account of [Advocate] dinner in papers. I got a letter from a Mr. Theodore S. Amussen, assistant editor in the firm of Farrar, Rinehart, Publishers. He said that Roy Larsen who was at [Advocate] dinner "was very much impressed" with my story. Amussen on his suggestion read it "and liked it very much indeed." He asked me to send him any copy of a novel I may write because he "would be greatly interested in seeing more material" of mine. He can't use short stories. Will send the letter next week. Love, Norman 6. To Fanny Mailer Scarboro Hotel, West End, New Jersey [late July 1941] Dear Mom, I'm sorry I didn't write yesterday, but I think Barbara explained. I've written 14,000 words in the last two nights, and I intend to work through Thursday night till I finish sometime Friday morning. I'll get a good night's sleep Friday night, and when you see me Saturday, I'll be all dimples and crinkles, instead of wrinkles. Please don't worry about me overworking, because I love it, and really feel very content and happy. The writing is going great guns, and I think the second part will be at least as good as the first. The third part will be excellent. I'm getting a hair-­cut this afternoon and I'll look beautiful of course. I haven't heard anything, but I do hope you're feeling much better. Ask Dad to drop us a line if he can, to tell us how you feel. Oh, all my love honey, Norman 7. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer Dunster Hall, G-52, Harvard College February 8, 1942 Dear Folks, I have a fair amount of news, and hope to make this a little longer than usual. First I got an answer from Story. I'm sending it on to you, but you must send me a copy back immediately. I'm going to write Mr. [Whit] Burnett and ask him if he wants me to see him before Easter. From the letter, I know he won't want to publish the book, but I'd like to talk to him about some short stories. Thanks for the shirts Mom. Have you given Osie [Radin] the story? I wish whoever has it would send it on to me (the subway thing) because I want to rewrite it, and I can't do it unless I have it. If Osie hasn't read it yet, please show it to her. What's the story there? The Phil exam was ferocious. I thought I knew my stuff before, but had to change my mind afterward. This seems to be the reaction with everybody that took the test. When are [you] sending up my paintings. (prints.) If it is possible to send me the license plate by this coming Friday, I would appreciate it as [Martin] Lubin and I have a big date fixed up. If it can't be done let me know anyway. I'm out of postcards, and I don't have time to write to Aunt Nan, so would you please give her my excuses, and so forth. Don't think of myself as nineteen yet. Thought Babbie's stuff was swell. Wrote her a letter about it. What did you think of my long story? You sounded unpleasantly silent on that score. I love you all, Norman [Postscript on envelope] Due to rise in food prices, they are going to give us less food (smaller meals) for the same money. Therefore, don't feel backward about sending me edibles. 8. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer [early April 1942] Dear Folks, Am out of envelopes, so am using this paper to fit into a haphazard envelope. Stories came. Was a marvelous typing job with only 2 mistakes in ten pages. Wonderful, Ma. The other story is in good shape, & there'd be no reason for you to slave thru another copy. I've got bad news now, I'm afraid. The story about the printers was false, and spread by John Crockett. He had gone up to Vermont (where the printers are) during Easter vacation, and made up the magazine there. Since he hates me after a fight we had in [a] meeting, I doubt very much if the Negro story will be in this issue. I don't know, but I doubt it. [Bruce] Barton was furious, & had taken away most of Crockett's duties. I don't know however what can be done about my story now. Almost certainly, it will be printed in the next issue. Test in English this Friday. Have Barbara write, and you might try reading the Freud, folks. Thanks for the good criticisms, folks, & have Babbie write what she thinks. Love, Norman 9. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer April 12, 1942 Dear Folks, There were a few people here during the week. I worked very hard, & only one notable story (rest trash) came out of it, but this story is the best I've ever written, I'm convinced. I'll send it to you for typing as soon as I finish polishing it off. Your idea, Mother, about a Utopia novel is very good honey, but there have been probably thirty or forty good novels about a Utopia already. Keep pitching, hon; it shows you have good ideas anyway. Please send a check for this coming week's allowance. I've worked it out with you on the finance end. The enclosed letter is not to be shown to Barbara until her books come. As soon as she opens them, slip her the letter. I'm afraid they may not come till Tuesday, because I didn't get the books till Friday night, & they were being sent parcel-­post. Went up to the hygiene building. As I told you, it's nothing. Doctor said it was just fibrous tissue or a benign cyst & would be with me the rest of my life without any danger. Got a scholarship blank out. Since I am unsure of the blank spaces, I wish Dad would fill it in, in very light pencil. Am sending it separately. "Maybe Next Year" was rejected by the New Yorker. John Mosher, the movie critic, wrote the rejection slip. Here it is: "I don't think [it's] just the thing for us--­not entirely clear as it shifts from one mind's attitude to another--­a complex 'stream-­of-­consciousness' effect which isn't entirely successful--­nor is much clear story or situation given." Tell Osie that John Mosher wrote the rejection slip. That means a lot since most stories only get a printed slip. Love, Norman Dunno what happened with Story magazine yet. Can't find any of the stories around. 10. To Fanny and I. B. Mailer Boston, Massachusetts postcard, June 5, 1942 Dear Folks, Have no envelopes. Hence this. My exams are over, & I got a C for the term in Engineering which is the only mark I know. I got a job at the Boston State Hosp. for $15 per & room and board. Start work June 12. You mustn't worry Mother, because the inmates are not dangerous. The whole place looks like a college campus, open & sunny, and the inmates are mainly only shell-­shocked veterans. I can't get home because my play needs some rewriting for the Harvard Dramatic Soc. & I have to work hand in glove with the director. When I make the changes there's a chance the play'll be put on. Since I need a rough copy, I wish, Mother that you'd send me the second draft that you used to type out the copies from. Also, Mother, I need about $10. Our board has stopped since the 31st, and it costs a $1.50 a day to eat decently now. I won't be able to go another week unless you send the $10. You and Aunt Nan will get a big surprise from me soon. It's unsigned, but you'll like it. Norm Excerpted from The Selected Letters of Norman Mailer by Norman Mailer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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