Remembering Norman Mailer: 5 Interesting Facts About the American Novelist

Literary giant Norman Mailer led a richly layered life, producing many great works. Read on to learn more about the author and some of his novels.

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At a PEN conference, Norman Mailer sits between two men all in suits, in front of a red curtain. A microphone, scattered papers, and a soda sit on the table in front of them.
Trigger Warning: The mention of domestic violence may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.

Born on January 31, 1923, Norman Mailer lived a prolific and nuanced life. From an early age, he was an avid reader and writer. With great support from his family, Mailer graduated from Harvard University, where his peers remember his self-assertiveness, often making insolent remarks. For more than half a century, he was an outspoken and at times defensive published author, whose colorful experiences gave way to some of the most compelling novels in America. In this article, we will reflect on the great novelist’s life and collection of works that all came together to create Norman Mailer’s literary legacy.

1. Published Under a Pen Name

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, American novelist and journalist Norman Kingsley Mailer created his novels, articles, films, and plays under a pen name. His name in Hebrew was Nachem Malech Mailer. Mailer’s father left his home country of South Africa to become a business man in the United States. Fanny Schneider, Mailer’s mother, was born and raised in Long Branch, her own father owning a local grocery store and acting as the town’s rabbi.

2. Authored Over 40 Books

Prolific writer Norman Mailer has written over 40 books, most containing criticism concerning 20-21st century American politics and structure. An army draftee, Mailer was expected to become an esteemed war novelist and represent the postwar generation, but his exploratory stories and personal egotism originated much distaste from his audience and produced much criticism. His very first book, The Naked and the Dead was an immediate success and is considered one of the best novels as a product of World War II.

Cover jacket of The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer. A faded image of a solider on the front lines is shadowed by greens and yellows.

Out of his works, Mailer’s nonfiction pieces gained more praise as opposed to his fiction novels. The Armies of the Night, published in 1968, about the Washington peace demonstrations in October of 1967, earned Mailer his first Pulitzer Prize. In that same year, Mailer himself was detained for civil disobedience and served a fine. His second Pulitzer Prize was awarded for his novel The Executioner’s Story, which details the life of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer.

Book jacket of The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer. A man walks towards the sunset on flat plain, with power lines in the distance.

3. Family History

Norman Mailer married six women in his lifetime: Beatrice Silverman, Adele Morales, Lady Jeanne Campbell, Beverly Bentley, Carol Stevens, and Norris Church Mailer. Mailer’s marriage with Carol Stevens began in ended in the year of 1980, only so that his daughter, Maggie, would be considered legitimate. He was claimed to be an perceptive father to nine children combined with these women. Yet, Mailer opposed the women’s liberation movement, proclaiming himself to be “an enemy of birth control.”

4. A Co-founder of The Village Voice

A yellowing archive of a page from The Village Voice newspaper.

Norman Mailer, at first a silent partner, invested in Dan Wolf and Ed Fancher’s passion project, The Village Voice, the first alternative newsweekly. Focused on New York culture, the editorial policy of the paper allowed contributors complete freedom of language and controversial subject matter, encompassing topics across art criticism and politics. This new style of writing gave way to New Journalism, incorporating techniques that highlighted the art of storytelling and the unique voices of the authors. The Village Voice is a significant part of New York’s counterculture history, taking activist stances.

5. Was a Failed Politician

Alongside the Pulitzer Prizes and many additional literary awards, Mailer had been the president of the American chapter of P.E.N. and even advised several United States presidents. Despite this, Norman Mailer unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City in 1969. At a party announcing his initial decision to run, Mailer drunkenly stabbed his wife, Adele Morales. He was arrested but had no charges brought up against him, and the couple separated and divorced two years later.

Though controversial, Norman Mailer’s contributions to the literary world create a vibrant and prevailing legacy. As we reflect on his life, it’s important to take a multi-dimensional approach and consider the multitudes of the richly complex novelist.

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