Norman Kingsley Mailer was an innovator of narrative nonfiction and New Journalism. Browse through this biography to know more about Norman Mailer, his childhood, profile and works.

Norman Mailer Biography

Born On: January 31, 1923
Norman Mailer
Born In:  Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S
Died On: November 10, 2007
Career: Novelist, essayist, journalist, columnist, poet, playwright
Nationality: American
"Culture is worth a little risk" were the choicest words of Norman Kingsley Mailer, who, along with Truman Capote and John McPhee, was known as an innovator in the field of narrative nonfiction, often referred to as New Journalism. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Mailer has written over 40 books and 11 novels in his lifetime, the last one being “The Castle in the Forest”, released in the year 2007. His best works include his first novel “The Naked and the Dead”, which has been rated amongst the “one hundred best novels in English language” by the Modern library and his 1973 book “Marilyn“, which was one of the most controversial biographies in American history.
Early Years
Norman Kingsley Mailer was born to Isaac Barnett Mailer and Fanny Schneider, a renowned Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, who was born in South Africa, was an accountant by profession, while his mother ran a nursing and housekeeping agency. He had a sister, named Barbara, who was four years younger to him. Mailer spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from Boy’s High School. In the year 1939, Mailer joined Harvard wherein he enrolled himself in aeronautical engineering. It was at Harvard that Mailer penned his first story, which, at the age of 18, won him the college contest by Story Magazine. Thereafter, Mailer joined the Signet Society. After earning his graduation degree, Mailer was drafted for the U.S army. He was stationed in Philippines during the World War II, as a part of 112th Cavalry. Although he completed his service as a cook, Mailer had gathered enough war experience to write his best book.
Early Career
Mailer published “The Naked and the Dead” in 1948, while he was studying in Paris. The book featured in the New York Times Bestseller list for 62 weeks and catapulted Mailer’s position as a writer instantly, establishing him as one of the best American postwar writers. His next notable book came in 1951, titled “Barbary Shore”, which was brief story of cold war politics, set in a Brooklyn lodging house. In mid 1950’s, his counter-cultural essays garnered him much fame. His first major controversy arrived with his book “The Deer Park” in 1955, which was initially rejected by seven publishers, including Rinehart & Company, which had published all his novels till then, but refused this one on pretext of being obscene.
In the same year, Mailer co-founded “The Village Voice”, a free weekly newspaper in New York for which he wrote a column from January to April 1956. It was in 1957 that Mailer wrote the famous essay "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster", which analyzed the American white people, who loved the black culture so much that they chose to live the black life and gave up the white ways. This was one of the most controversial essays of postwar period. In 1959, Mailer came up with “Advertisements For Myself”, a book that showcased all his previous work and plans about his future endeavors.
The 1960s
In 1960, Mailer wrote “Superman Comes to the Supermarket”, which highlighted John F Kennedy’s emergence at the Democratic Party convention. This essay was a highlight of the early days of the New Journalism era, which saw the use of many unconventional writing techniques used. He wrote his fourth novel “An American Dream”, a fusion of politics, sex and violence, as an eight month long serial in Esquire magazine. The revised version of the book was acclaimed as the bestseller. During this decade, Mailer also directed few experimental films and in 1967 his book, ”The Deer Park” was staged at the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village. The same year Mailer was arrested for his involvement in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon. However, a year later, Mailer’s major contributions to New Journalism was uncovered with the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner “The Armies Of The Night”. This was followed by “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” in the same year, which continued to feature political conventions. In 1969, he ran unsuccessfully in the primary elections for New York City mayor.
The 1970s & 80s
Mailer directed and starred in the 1970 film ”Maidstone” during which he sustained a head injury, when he was struck with a hammer during a brawl. In 1971, he returned with “Of a Fire on the Moon” and “The Prisoner of Sex”, two books which established him as a pioneer in New Journalism history. He started working on his next bestseller “Ancient Evenings” in 1972, which was not released until 1983. His 1973 “Marilyn”, which was a biography of Marilyn Monroe was one of the most controversial and bestselling biographies ever. It outsold all his other books except “The Naked and the Dead” and remained in print till 2009. 1980 was yet another remarkable year in the lifetime of Mailer as his novel “The Executioner’s Song” won him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In 1987, he adapted and directed a film version of his 1984 novel “Tough Guys Don't Dance “, a murder mystery which did poorly in box-office terms.
The 90s & Last Years
Mailer’s longest novel “Harlot's Ghost” came out in 1991.This book covered some very dramatic CIA activity post the World War II till 1965. The novel is still on the CIA reading lists and contains material gathered through extensive research. The book ended with a phrase “to be continued”, thus setting up expectations for a sequel which, though, never appeared. In 2005, Mailer co-wrote the book “The Big Empty” with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer. His final novel "The Castle in the Forest” reached number 5 on the New York Times Bestseller List when published in January 2007.This was his best work since “The Executioner’s Song”. Notably, it won him a “Bad Sex in Fiction Award” by the Literary Review magazine. Like “Harlot’s Ghost” this book was also considered the first volume in a trilogy, but as Mailer died a few months after its completion, the trilogy became nothing more than a myth.
Marriages and Kids
Mailer was married six times and had 9 children, including his informally adopted son from his last wife’s first marriage. Mailer first tied the knot in the year 1944 to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952. Two years later, Mailer united with Adele Morales. However, the unison did not last long as Mailer stabbed her with a pen knife, nearly killing her. Mailer then married British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell in 1962. Nonetheless, the couple separated a year after their marriage. The same year, Mailer tied the nuptial knot with Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. The couple got divorced in 1980. Mailer married Carol Stevens on November 7, 1980 but divorced the very next day. This marriage was primarily done to legitimate their daughter Maggie, who was born in the year 1971. His last wife was Norris Church an art teacher.
Death and Bequest
Mailer died on the morning of November 10, 2007 due to rapid loss of kidney function. A month prior to his death, Mailer had undergone a lung surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York. His papers and work can be found at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin, which he reportedly sold to the university for 2,600,000 dollars. While his last mistress, Carole Mallory sold seven boxes of documents and photographs to Mailer’s Alma mater Harvard University in 2008 for an undisclosed amount. A documentary based on his life will be released soon.
His Selected Works
  • The Naked And The Dead, 1948.
  • The Deer Park, 1955
  • The White Negro, 1957
  • Advertisements For Myself, 1959
  • Deaths For The Ladies, And Other Disasters, 1962
  • The Presidential Papers, 1963
  • An American Dream, 1965 Cannibals And Christians, 1966
  • The Bullfight, 1967
  • Why Are We In Vietnam?, 1967
  • The Armies Of The Night, 1968 - awarded with the Pulitzer Prize
  • The Idol And The Octopus, 1968
  • Miami And The Siege Of Chicago, 1968
  • Running Against The Machine, 1969
  • Of A Fire On The Moon, 1970
  • The Prisoner Of Sex, 1971
  • King Of The Hill, 1971
  • The Long Patrol, 1971
  • St. George and the godfather, 1972
  • Existential Errands, 1972
  • Marilyn, 1973
  • The Fight Of Graffiti / Watching My Name Go By, 1975
  • The Flight, 1975
  • Genius And Lust, 1976 - (a portrait of Henry miller)
  • Some Honorable Men, 1976
  • The Executioner’s Song, 1979 - awarded with the Pulitzer-Prize
  • Of Women And Their Elegance, 1980
  • Pieces And Pontifications, 1982
  • The Essential Mailer, 1982
  • Ancient Evenings, 1984
  • Tough Guys Don't Dance, 1984
  • Harlot's Ghost, 1991
  • Pablo And Fernandez, 1994
  • Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery, 1995
  • Portrait Of Picasso As A Young Man, 1995
  • The Gospel According To The Son, 1997
  • The Time Of Our Time, 1998
  • Into The Mirror by Lawrence Schiller, 2002 - based upon an investigation by Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller; dramatized for television by N. Mailer
  • The Spooky Art, 2003
  • Why are we at war?, 2003
  • Modest Gifts, 2003
  • The Big Empty, 2006 (with John Buffalo Mailer)
  • The Castle In The Forest, 2007

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