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Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer
photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1948
Born Norman Kingsley Mailer
January 31, 1923(1923-01-31)
Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.
Died November 10, 2007 (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, essayist, journalist, columnist, poet, playwright
Nationality American
Genres Fiction, non-fiction

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of narrative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which superimposes the essay onto the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once. In 1955, Mailer, together with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which began as an arts and politics oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation.


Early life

Norman Kingsley Mailer was born to a well-known Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant, and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer's sister, Barbara, was born in 1927.[1] Raised in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Boys' High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering. At Harvard, he became interested in writing and published his first story at the age of 18, winning Story Magazine's college contest in 1941. As an undergraduate, he was a member of The Signet Society. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In World War II, he served in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry. He was not involved in much combat and completed his service as a cook,[1] but the experience provided enough material for The Naked and the Dead.

Literary career


In 1948, while continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Mailer published The Naked and the Dead, based on his military service in World War II. A New York Times best seller for 62 weeks, it was hailed by many as one of the best American wartime novels and named one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library.

Barbary Shore (1951) was a surreal parable of Cold War left politics set in a Brooklyn rooming-house. His 1955 novel The Deer Park drew on his experiences working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1949-50. It was initially rejected by seven publishers due to its purportedly sexual content before being published by Putnam's.

In the tradition of Dickens and Dostoevsky, Mailer wrote his fourth novel, An American Dream, as a serial in Esquire magazine over eight months (January to August 1964), publishing the first chapter only two months after he wrote it. In March 1965, Dial Press published a revised version. His editor was E. L. Doctorow. The novel received mixed reviews, but was a best seller. Joan Didion praised it in a review in National Review (April 20, 1965) and John W. Aldridge did the same in Life (March 19, 1965), while Elizabeth Hardwick panned it in Partisan Review (spring 1965). Except for a brief period, the novel has never gone out of print.

Norman Mailer at the Miami Book Fair International of 1988

In 1980, The Executioner's Song, Mailer's novelization of the life and death of murderer Gary Gilmore, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Mailer spent a longer time writing Ancient Evenings, his novel of Egypt in the XX dynasty (about 1100 B.C.E.) than any of his other books, working on it off and on from 1972 until 1983. It was also a bestseller, although reviews were generally negative.

Harlot's Ghost, Mailer's longest novel (1310 pages), appeared in 1991. It is an exploration of the unspoken dramas of the CIA from the end of WWII to 1965. He performed a huge amount of research for the novel, which is still on CIA reading lists. He ended the novel with the words "To be continued," and planned to write a sequel, titled Harlot's Grave. But other projects intervened and he never wrote it. Harlot's Ghost sold well.

His final novel, The Castle in the Forest, which focused on Hitler's childhood, reached number five on the Times best seller list after publication in January 2007, and received stronger reviews than any of his books since The Executioner's Song. Castle was intended to be the first volume of a trilogy, but Mailer died several months after it was completed. The Castle in the Forest was awarded a Bad Sex in Fiction Award by the Literary Review magazine.[2]

Mailer wrote over 40 books. He published 11 novels over a 59-year stretch.

The New Journalism

From the mid-1950s, Mailer became known for his counter-cultural essays. In 1955, he co-founded The Village Voice for which he wrote a column from January to April 1956.[3] Mailer's famous essay "The White Negro"[4] (1957) "analyzes and partly defends the moral radicalism of the outsider and hipster."[4] It is one of the most anthologized, and controversial, essays of the postwar period.

In 1960, Mailer wrote "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" for Esquire, an account of the emergence of John F. Kennedy during the Democratic party convention. The essay was an important breakthrough for the New Journalism of the nineteen sixties. Mailer's contributions to the New Journalism include major books such as Armies of the Night (1968—awarded a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award); Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968); Of a Fire on the Moon (1971); and The Prisoner of Sex (1971). Hallmarks of these works are a highly subjectivized style, and a greater application of techniques from fiction-writing than common in journalism.

Other work

In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer produced a play version of The Deer Park (staged at the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village in 1967[5]), and in the late 1960s directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a spontaneous and brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by Mailer, and Kingsley's brother, played by Rip Torn. Mailer received a head injury when Torn struck him with a hammer. In 1987, he adapted and directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal and Isabella Rossellini, which has become a minor camp classic.

Political activism

A number of Mailer's nonfiction works, such as The Armies of the Night and The Presidential Papers, are political. He covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, and 1996, although his account of the 1996 Democratic convention has never been published. In the early 1960s he was fixated on the figure of President John F. Kennedy, whom he regarded as an "existential hero." In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s and 1970s his work mingled autobiography, social commentary, history, fiction, and poetry in a formally original way that influenced the development of New Journalism. In October 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon.

On the December 15, 1971 taping of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner, it was alleged that Norman Mailer had headbutted Gore Vidal during an altercation in which there were mutual insults and name calling between the two before both went on air. The Wikipedia article about landmark episodes of the show stated : A 1971 interview with Norman Mailer was not going well. Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests (Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner), and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?"[2] Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you all accept finger-bowls." Mailer later said to Cavett "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett replied "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?" A long laugh ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had come up with that line and Cavett replied "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?".

Two years later, at the suggestion of Gloria Steinem,[6] his friend the political essayist Noel Parmentel and others, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City, allied with columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for City Council President), proposing New York City secession and creating a 51st state. Their slogan was "throw the rascals in". He came in fourth in a field of five.[7] From 1980 until his death in 2007, he contributed to Democratic Party candidacies for political office.[8]

In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. In 1977, Abbott had read about Mailer's work on The Executioner's Song and wrote to Mailer, offering to enlighten the author about Abbott's time behind bars and the conditions he was experiencing. Mailer, impressed, helped to publish In the Belly of the Beast, a book on life in the prison system consisting of Abbott's letters to Mailer. Once paroled, Abbott committed a murder in New York City six weeks after his release, stabbing to death 22-year-old Richard Adan. Consequently, Mailer was subject to criticism for his role. In a 1992 interview with the Buffalo News, he conceded that his involvement was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in.".[9]

In 1989, Mailer joined with a number of other prominent authors in publicly expressing support for colleague Salman Rushdie in the wake of the fatwa calling for Rushdie's assassination issued by Iran's Islamic government for his having authored The Satanic Verses.[10]

In 2003, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, just before the invasion of Iraq, Mailer said: "Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it."[11]

Biographical subjects

His biographical subjects included Pablo Picasso, Muhammad Ali, Gary Gilmore and Lee Harvey Oswald. His 1986 off-Broadway play Strawhead, starring his daughter, Kate Mailer, was about Marilyn Monroe. His 1973 biography of Monroe, Marilyn: A Novel Biography was particularly controversial: in its final chapter he stated that she was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. He later admitted that these speculations were "not good journalism."[citation needed]

Despite these problems, the biography was enormously successful and sold more copies than any Mailer book except Naked and the Dead. The book is currently out of print in the United States.

Personal life

Marriages and children

Norman Mailer was married six times and had 9 children. He had eight biological children by his various wives and he also had informally adopted Norris' son from another marriage, Matthew.

Norman's first marriage was in 1944, to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952. They had one child, Susan.

Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. They had two daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth. In 1960, Mailer stabbed Adele with a penknife after a party, nearly killing her.[12] He was involuntarily committed to Bellevue Hospital for 17 days; his wife would not press charges, and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault, and was given a suspended sentence.[13][14] While in the short term, Morales made a physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident and its aftermath. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work.[15]

His third wife, whom he married in 1962, and divorced in 1963, was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929–2007), the only daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. The couple had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress.

His fourth marriage, in 1963, was to Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. She was the mother of his producer son Michael and his actor son Stephen.

His fifth wife was Carol Stevens, a legendary jazz singer, whom he married in 1980, and with whom he previously had a daughter in 1971, Maggie.

His sixth and last wife, married in 1980, was Norris Church (née Barbara Davis), a former model and painter turned writer. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor, and Mailer informally adopted Matthew Norris, her son by her first husband, Larry Norris. Mailer first met her in 1975, in Russellville, Arkansas, when he was in town visiting an old Army friend.[16]

Works with children

In 2005, Mailer co-wrote a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, entitled The Big Empty. In 2007 Random House published his last novel, The Castle in the Forest.

Mailer appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls entitled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" with his son Stephen Mailer.

Death and legacy

Mailer died of acute renal failure on the morning of November 10, 2007, a month after undergoing lung surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York.[17]

The papers of the two time Pulitzer Prize author may be found at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.[18][19]

In 2008, Carole Mallory sold seven boxes of documents and photographs to Harvard University, Norman Mailer's Alma Mater. They contain extracts of her letters, books and journals.[20][21]

Selected bibliography



  • The White Negro. San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.
  • Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam's, 1959.
  • The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.
  • Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.
  • The Armies of the Night. New York: New American Library, 1968.
  • Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968. New York: New American Library, 1968.
  • Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
  • The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.[22]
  • St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.
  • Marilyn: a Biography. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
  • The Faith of Graffiti. New York: Praeger, 1974.
  • The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.
  • The Executioner's Song. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979.
  • Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1980.
  • Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.
  • Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretative Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
  • Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996 ISBN 978-0679425359
  • Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003 ISBN 978-0812971118
  • The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2003.
  • The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. New York: Nation Books, 2006
  • On God: An Uncommon Conversation. New York: Random House, 2007 ISBN 978-1400067329


  1. ^ a b "Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With Matching Ego, Dies at 84." New York Times. 2007-11-10.
  2. ^ "Late Mailer wins 'bad sex' award." BBC News. November 27, 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Norman Mailer (1924-2007)."
  5. ^ Guernsey, Otis L. "Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965-1987". Applause 1987. - play review page 78.
  6. ^ Mailer, Norman (November 1971). The Prisoner of Sex. The New American Library: Signet. pp. 18–19. ISBN 70-157475. 
  7. ^ Campaign poster.
  8. ^ "Campaign contributions." Accessed January 25, 2008
  9. ^ Ulin, David L. "Mailer: an ego with an insecure streak." Los Angeles Times. November 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. "Literary World Lashes Out After a Week of Hesitation." New York Times. February 22, 1989.
  11. ^ "Only In America." Commonwealth Club. February 20, 2003.
  12. ^ "Norman Mailer Arrested in Stabbing of Wife at a Party", The New York Times, November 22, 1960. Retrieved April 26, 2008
  13. ^ "Of Time and the Rebel." Time. December 5, 1960. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  14. ^ "Crime and Punishment; Norman Mailer Stabs His Wife At A Party In Their New York Apartment." Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1991. Accessed April 26, 2008.
  15. ^ Millet, Kate. Sexual Politics Virago, 1991. pp. 314-315
  16. ^ "The Mailers: Norman And Norris, Literati In Love". CBS News. February 4, 2001. 
  17. ^ "Author Norman Mailer dies at 84." BBC. November 10, 2007
  18. ^ 2005 press release
  19. ^ Mailer visit to Ransom Center in Texas
  20. ^ Allyen, Richard. "Mailer's mistress reveals 'real man' in steamy bedroom accounts." Sydney Morning Herald. April 26, 2008
  21. ^ "Mailer Sex Stories Arrive at Harvard." Harvard Crimson. April 26, 2008.
  22. ^ Mailer, Norman (March 1971). "The Prisoner of Sex". Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 

Further reading

  • Norman Mailer by Michael K. Glenday. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
  • Radical Fictions and the Novels of Norman Mailer by Nigel Leigh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
  • Norman Mailer: Works and Days by J. Michael and Donna P. Lennon. Westport, MA: Sligo Press, 2000. Comprehensive, annotated primary and secondary bibliography with life chronology.
  • Norman Mailer: The Man and His Work, edited by Robert F. Lucid. Boston: Little, Brown. The first collection of essays on Mailer.
  • Norman Mailer by Philip Bufithis. New York: Ungar, 1978. Perhaps the most readable and reliable study of Mailer's early work.
  • Acts of Regeneration: Allegory and Archetype in the Works of Norman Mailer by Robert J. Begiebing. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980. Fine discussion of Mailer's "heroic consciousness."
  • The Enduring Vision of Norman Mailer by Barry H. Leeds. Bainbridge, WA: Pleasure Boat Studio, 2002.
  • Political Fiction and the American Self by John Whalen-Bridge. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. Subtle examination of Mailer's dual aptitude of representing and resisting American mythologies.
  • Critical Essays on Norman Mailer, edited by J.Michael Lennon: Boston, G.K.Hall and Co., 1986.
  • Norman Mailer, by Richard Poirier. New York: Viking,1972. One of the best studies of Mailer's writing, tracking his career through the early Eighties.
  • Norman Mailer by Richard Jackson Foster. University of Minnesota Press, 1968. Pamphlet.
  • The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer by Barry H. Leeds, New York University Press,1969.
  • Norman Mailer Revisited by Robert Merrill. Twayne, 1992. Contains perhaps the best analysis of The Executioner's Song
  • Mailer: His Life and Times, edited by Peter Manso. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Highly readable, but controversial "oral" biography of Mailer created by cross-cutting interviews with friends, enemies, acquaintances, relatives, wives of Mailer and Mailer himself.
  • Conversations with Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
  • Norman Mailer: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Leo Braudy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Contains useful insights on Miami and the Siege of Chicago.
  • Existential Battles: The Growth of Norman Mailer by Laura Adams. Athens: University of Ohio Press, 1976. Good discussion of early narrators.
  • Time to Murder and Create: The Contemporary Novel in Crisis by John W. Aldridge. New York: David McKay, 1966. Contains Aldridge's important essay on An American Dream.
  • The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk). Contains "The White Negro."
  • The Norman Mailer Review, edited by Phillip Sipiora. New periodical Co-sponsored by the University of South Florida and The Norman Mailer Society (

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Every moment of one's existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.

Norman Mailer (1923-01-312007-11-10) was an American novelist, journalist, playwright, screenwriter and film director who is considered to have been innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism.



  • Every moment of one's existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.
    • "Hip, Hell, and the Navigator" in Western Review No. 23 (Winter 1959); republished in Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988) edited by J. Michael Lennon.
  • The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.
    • "Hip, Hell, and the Navigator" in Western Review No. 23 (Winter 1959); republished in Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988) edited by J. Michael Lennon.
  • The sickness of our times for me has been just this damn thing that everything has been getting smaller and smaller and less and less important, that the romantic spirit has dried up, that there is no shame today.... We're all getting so mean and small and petty and ridiculous, and we all live under the threat of extermination.
    • "Hip, Hell, and the Navigator" in Western Review No. 23 (Winter 1959); republished in Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988) edited by J. Michael Lennon.
  • Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.
    • "Mr. Mailer Interviews Himself" in The New York Times Book Review (17 September 1965)
  • You're contending with a genius, D.J. is his name, only American alive who could outtalk Cassius Clay, that's lip.
    • D.J., in Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) Ch. 1
  • This is D.J., Disc Jockey to America turning off. Vietnam, hot dam.
    • D.J., in Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) Ch. 10
  • One's condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one. One feels one's being, one becomes aware of the enormous apparatus of nothingness — the hum of a hi-fi set, the emptiness of a pointless interruption, one becomes aware of the war between each of us, how the nothingness in each of us seeks to attack the being of others, how our being in turn is attacked by the nothingness in others.
    • Interview in Writers at Work Third Series (1967) edited by George Plimpton
  • With the pride of an artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance.
    • As quoted in The Eternal Adam and the New World Garden (1968) by David W. Noble, p. 204
  • His consolation in those hours when he was most uncharitable to himself is that taken at his very worst he was at least still worthy of being a character in a novel by Balzac, win one day, lose the next, and do it with boom! and baroque in the style.
  • New York is one of the capitals of the world and Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic, San Francisco is a lady, Boston has become Urban Renewal, Philadelphia and Baltimore and Washington blink like dull diamonds in the smog of Eastern Megalopolis, and New Orleans is unremarkable past the French Quarter. Detroit is a one-trade town, Pittsburgh has lost its golden triangle, St Louis has become the golden arch of the corporation, and nights in Kansas City close early. The oil depletion allowance makes Houston and Dallas naught but checkerboards for this sort of game. But Chicago is a great American city. Perhaps it is the last of the great American cities.
    • Miami and the Siege of Chicago : An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968 (1969)
  • There are four stages to marriage. First there's the affair, then there's the marriage, then children, and finally the fourth stage, without which you cannot know a woman, the divorce.
    • News summaries (31 December 1969)
  • Women think of being a man as a gift. It is a duty. Even making love can be a duty. A man has always got to get it up, and love isn't always enough.
    • News summaries (31 December 1969)
  • The horror of the Twentieth Century was the size of each new event, and the paucity of its reverberation.
    • A Fire on the Moon (1970), Pt. 1, Ch. 1
  • The difference between writing a book and being on television is the difference between conceiving a child and having a baby made in a test tube.
    • "The Siege of Mailer : Hero to Historian" in The Village Voice (21 January 1971); republished in Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988), edited by J. Michael Lennon
  • We think of Marilyn who was every man's love affair with America. Marilyn Monroe who was blonde and beautiful and had a sweet little rinky-dink of a voice and all the cleanliness of all the clean American backyards.
    • Marilyn(1973), Ch. 1
  • The highest prize in a world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.
  • A little bit of rape is good for a man's soul.
    • Address on "Richard Milhous Nixon and Women's Liberation" at the University of California at Berkeley, as quoted in TIME magazine (6 November 1972), which also reported that at the close of his address:
Mailer invited "all the feminists in the audience to please hiss." When a satisfying number obliged, he commented: "Obedient little bitches."
  • I think it's bad to talk about one's present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.
    • As quoted in The Writer's Quotation Book : A Literary Companion (1980) by James Charlton, p. 43
  • Crude thoughts and fierce forces are my state. I do not know who I am. Nor what I was. I cannot hear a sound. Pain is near that will be like no pain felt before.
    • Ancient Evenings (1983) First lines
  • We sail across dominions barely seen, washed by the swells of time. We plow through fields of magnetism. Past and future come together on thunderheads and our dead hearts live with lightning in the wounds of the Gods.
    • Ancient Evenings (1983) Last lines
  • Short-term amnesia is not the worst affliction if you have an Irish flair for the sauce.
    • Vanity Fair (May 1984)
  • Decade after decade, artists came to paint the light of Provincetown, and comparisons were made to the lagoons of Venice and the marshes of Holland, but then the summer ended and most of the painters left, and the long dingy undergarment of the gray New England winter, gray as the spirit of my mood, came down to visit.
    • Timothy Madden, in Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984), Ch. 1
  • When I read it, I don't wince, which is all I ever ask for a book I write.
    • On Tough Guys Don't Dance as quoted in The New York Times (8 June 1984)
  • Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.
    • Newsweek (22 October 1984)
  • I felt something shift to murder in me. I felt … that I was an outlaw, a psychic outlaw, and I liked it.
    • His reaction to a publisher's rejection of The Deer Park because of six "salacious lines" he would not remove, as quoted in The New York Times (21 July 1985)
  • On a late-winter evening in 1983, while driving through fog along the Maine coast, recollections of old campfires began to drift into the March mist, and I thought of the Abnaki Indians of the Algonquin tribe who dwelt near Bangor a thousand years ago.
    • Harry Hubbard, in Harlot's Ghost : A Novel (1991)
  • What if there are not only two nostrils, two eyes, two lobes, and so forth, but two psyches as well, and they are separately equipped? They go through life like Siamese twins inside one person.... They can be just a little different, like identical twins, or they can be vastly different, like good and evil.
    • Kittredge Gardiner, in Harlot's Ghost : A Novel (1991)
  • I never saw love as luck, as that gift from the gods which put everything else in place, and allowed you to succeed. No, I saw love as reward. One could find it only after one's virtue, or one's courage, or self-sacrifice, or generosity, or loss, has succeeded in stirring the power of creation.
    • Harry Hubbard, in Harlot's Ghost : A Novel (1991)
  • There is nothing safe about sex. There never will be.
    • As quoted in The International Herald Tribune (24 January 1992)
  • Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer.
    • Interview with Divina Infusino in American Way (15 June 1995)
  • I don't think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.
    • Interview with Divina Infusino in American Way (15 June 1995)
  • The ultimate tendency of liberalism is vegetarianism.
    • Herbst Theater, San Francisco City Arts & Lectures Series, (5 February 2007)
  • Booze, pot, too much sex, failure in one's private life, too much attrition, too much recognition, too little recognition. Nearly everything in the scheme of things works to dull a first-rate talent. But the worst probably is cowardice.

The Naked and the Dead (1948)

  • You're a fool if you don't realize this is going to be the reactionary's century, perhaps their thousand-year reign. It's the one thing Hitler said which wasn't completely hysterical.
    • Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 3
  • I hate everything which is not in myself.
    • Sgt. Sam Croft, in Pt. 1, Ch. 5
  • A nation fights well in proportion to the amount of men and materials it has. And the other equation is that the individual soldier in that army is a more effective soldier the poorer his standard of living has been in the past.
    • Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 6
  • The natural role of twentieth-century man is anxiety.
    • Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 6
  • To make an Army work you have to have every man in it fitted into a fear ladder... The Army functions best when you're frightened of the man above you, and contemptuous of your subordinates.
    • Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 6
  • There's that popular misconception of man as something between a brute and an angel. Actually man is in transit between brute and God.
    • Gen. Edward Cummings, in Pt. 1, Ch. 11
  • He felt a crude ecstasy. He could not have given the reason, but the mountain tormented him, beckoned him, held an answer to something he wanted. It was so pure, so austere.
    • On Sgt. Sam Croft and Mt. Anaka, in Pt. 3, Ch. 3
  • Croft had an instinctive knowledge of land, sensed the stresses and torsions that had first erupted it, the abrasions of wind and water. The platoon had long ceased to question any direction he took; they knew he would be right as infallibly as sun after darkness or fatigue after a long march.
    • Pt. 3, Ch. 10
  • He could jazz up the map-reading class by having a full-size color photograph of Betty Grable in a bathing suit, with a co-ordinate grid system laid over it. The instructor could point to different parts of her and say, "Give me the co-ordinates."... The Major could see every unit in the Army using his idea.... Hot dog!
    • On Maj. Dalleson, in Pt. 4, Ch. 1

Barbary Shore (1951)

  • There was never a revolution to equal it, and never a city more glorious than Petrograd, and for all that period of my life I lived another and braved the ice of winter and the summer flies in Vyborg while across my adopted country of the past, winds of the revolution blew their flame, and all of us suffered hunger while we drank at the wine of equality.
    • Michael Lovett, in Ch. 14
  • What were the phenomena of the world today? If I knew little else, I knew the answer — war, and the preparations for new war.
    • Michael Lovett, in Ch. 18
  • He was a fool — a brilliant man and I loved his beard, and there was the mountain ax in his brain, and all the blood poured out, and he could not see the Mexican sun. Your people raised the ax, and the last blood of revolutionary mankind, his poor blood, ran into the carpet.
    • Lannie Madison, on the assassination of Leon Trotsky, in Ch. 21
  • Revolutions are the periods of history when individuals count most.
    • McLeod, in Ch. 29
  • The storm approaches its thunderhead, and it is apparent that the boat drifts ever closer to shore. So the blind will lead the blind, and the deaf shout warnings to one another until their voices are lost.
    • Michael Lovett, in Ch. 33

The Deer Park (1955)

  • Somerset Maugham ... wrote somewhere that "Nobody is any better than he ought to be."... I carried it along with me as a working philosophy, but I suppose that finally I would have to take exception to the thought ... or else the universe is just an elaborate clock.
    • Ch. 10
  • The manuscript lay like a dust-rag on his desk, and Eitel found, as he had found before, that the difficulty of art was that it forced a man back on his life, and each time the task was more difficult and distasteful.
    • Ch. 14
  • The essence of spirit, he thought to himself, was to choose the thing which did not better one's position but made it more perilous. That was why the world he knew was poor, for it insisted morality and caution were identical.
    • Ch. 18
  • There was that law of life so cruel and so just which demanded that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.
    • Ch. 26
  • I ask, "Would You agree that sex is where philosophy begins?" But God, who is the oldest of the philosophers, answers in his weary cryptic way, "Rather think of Sex as Time, and Time as the connection of new circuits."
    • Ch. 28

The Man Who Studied Yoga (1956)

Published in New Short Novels 2 (1956)
  • I would introduce myself if it were not useless. The name I had last night will not be the same as the name I have tonight. For the moment, then, let me say that I am thinking of Sam Slovoda.
    • Ch. 1
  • I am convinced the most unfortunate people are those who would make an art of love. It sours other effort. Of all artists, they are certainly the most wretched.
    • Ch. 5
  • The novelist, thinks Sam, perspiring beneath blankets, must live in paranoia and seek to be one with the world; he must be terrified of experience and hungry for it; he must think himself nothing and believe he is superior to all. The feminine in his nature cries out for proof he is a man; he loves himself and therefore despises all that he is.
    • Ch. 5
  • He has wasted the day, he tells himself, he has wasted the day as he has wasted so many days of his life ... while that huge work with which he has cheated himself, that enormous novel which would lift him at a bound from the impasse in which he stifles, whose dozens of characters would develop a vision of life in bountiful complexity, lies foundering, rotting on a beach of purposeless effort. Notes here, pages there, it sprawls through a formless wreck of incidental ideas and half-episodes; utterly without shape. He is not even a hero for it.
    • Ch. 5
  • However could he organize his novel? What form to give it? It is so complex. Too loose, thinks Sam, too scattered.
    • Ch. 5
  • I give an idea to Sam. "Destroy time, and chaos may be ordered," I say to him.
    "Destroy time, and chaos may be ordered," he repeats after me, and in desperation to seek his coma, mutters back, "I do not feel my nose, my nose is numb, my eyes are heavy, my eyes are heavy."
    So Sam enters the universe of sleep, a man who seeks to live in such a way as to avoid pain, and succeeds merely in avoiding pleasure. What a dreary compromise is life!
    • Ch. 5

Advertisements for Myself (1959)

  • Each day a few more lies eat into the seed with which we are born, little institutional lies from the print of newspapers, the shock waves of television, and the sentimental cheats of the movie screen.
    • "First Advertisement for Myself"
  • There is probably no sensitive heterosexual alive who is not preoccupied with his latent homosexuality.
    • "The Homosexual Villain"
    • This has also been misquoted as: "There is probably no heterosexual alive who is not preoccupied with his latent homosexuality."
  • I had my good looks, my blond hair, my height, build, and bullfighting school, I suppose I became one of the Village equivalents of an Eagle Scout badge for the girls. I was one of the credits needed for a diploma in the sexual humanities.
    • Sergius O'Shaugnessy, in "The Time of Her Time"
  • When the wind carries a cry which is meaningful to human ears, it is simpler to believe the wind shares with us some part of the emotion of Being than that the mysteries of a hurricane's rising murmur reduce to no more than the random collision of insensate molecules.
    • "Advertisement for Myself on the Way Out"
  • God like Us suffers the ambition to make a destiny more extraordinary than was conceived for Him, yes God is like Me, only more so.
    • "Advertisement for Myself on the Way Out"
  • Hip is the sophistication of the wise primitive in a giant jungle.
    • "The White Negro", first published in Dissent (Summer 1957)
  • America is a hurricane, and the only people who do not hear the sound are those fortunate if incredibly stupid and smug White Protestants who live in the center, in the serene eye of the big wind.
  • "Advertisement for 'Games and Ends'", Pt. 5
  • The White Protestant's ultimate sympathy must be with science, factology, and committee rather than with sex, birth, heat, flesh, creation, the sweet and the funky; they must vote, manipulate, control, and direct, these Protestants who are the center of power in our land, they must go for what they believe is reason when it is only the Square logic of the past.
  • "Advertisement for 'Games and Ends'", Pt. 5

The Presidential Papers (1963)

  • A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.
    • Preface
  • In America few people will trust you unless you are irreverent.
    • Preface
  • Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision. The more a man can achieve, the more he may be certain that the devil will inhabit a part of his creation.
    • Preface
  • A political convention is after all not a meeting of a corporation's board of directors; it is a fiesta, a carnival, a pig-rooting, horse-snorting, band-playing, voice-screaming medieval get-together of greed, practical lust, compromised idealism, career-advancement, meeting, feud, vendetta, conciliation, of rabble-rousers, fist fights (as it used to be), embraces, drunks (again as it used to be) and collective rivers of animal sweat.
  • In America all too few blows are struck into flesh. We kill the spirit here, we are experts at that. We use psychic bullets and kill each other cell by cell.
    • The Fourth Presidential Paper — Foreign Affairs : Letter To Castro
  • I'm hostile to men, I'm hostile to women, I'm hostile to cats, to poor cockroaches, I'm afraid of horses.
    • The Sixth Presidential Paper — A Kennedy Miscellany : An Impolite Interview
  • At bottom, I mean profoundly at bottom, the FBI has nothing to do with Communism, it has nothing to do with catching criminals, it has nothing to do with the Mafia, the syndicate, it has nothing to do with trust-busting, it has nothing to do with interstate commerce, it has nothing to do with anything but serving as a church for the mediocre. A high church for the true mediocre.
    • The Sixth Presidential Paper — A Kennedy Miscellany : An Impolite Interview

Cannibals and Christians (1966)

  • We live in a time which has created the art of the absurd. It is our art. It contains happenings, Pop art, camp, a theater of the absurd... Do we have the art because the absurd is the patina of waste...? Or are we face to face with a desperate or most rational effort from the deepest resources of the unconscious of us all to rescue civilization from the pit and plague of its bedding?
    • Introducing our Argument
  • We are close to dead. There are faces and bodies like gorged maggots on the dance floor, on the highway, in the city, in the stadium; they are a host of chemical machines who swallow the product of chemical factories, aspirin, preservatives, stimulant, relaxant, and breathe out their chemical wastes into a polluted air. The sense of a long last night over civilization is back again.
    • Introducing our Argument
  • There's a subterranean impetus towards pornography so powerful that half the business world is juiced by the sort of half sex that one finds in advertisements.
    • "Petty Notes on Some Sex in America" first published in Playboy magazine (1961 - 1962)
  • Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honor. Because there is very little honor left in American life, there is a certain built-in tendency to destroy masculinity in American men.
    • "Petty Notes on Some Sex in America" first published in Playboy magazine (1961 - 1962)
  • Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.
  • There is one expanding horror in American life. It is that our long odyssey toward liberty, democracy and freedom-for-all may be achieved in such a way that utopia remains forever closed, and we live in freedom and hell, debased of style, not individual from one another, void of courage, our fear rationalized away.
    • Review of the book My Hope for America
  • What characterizes a member of a minority group is that he is forced to see himself as both exceptional and insignificant, marvelous and awful, good and evil.
    • "A Speech at Berkeley on Vietnam Day"

An American Dream (1965)

  • I met Jack Kennedy in November, 1946.... We went out on a double date and it turned out to be a fair evening for me. I seduced a girl who would have been bored by a diamond as big as the Ritz.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 1
  • I was now at a university in New York, a professor of existential psychology with the not inconsiderable thesis that magic, dread, and the perception of death were the roots of motivation.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 1
  • Murder offers the promise of vast relief. It is never unsexual.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 1
  • Witches have no wit, said the magician who was weak. Hula, hula, said the witches.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 4
  • I had a quick grasp of the secret to sanity — it had become the ability to hold the maximum of impossible combinations in one's mind.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 5
  • Love was love, one could find it with anyone, one could find it anywhere. It was just that you could never keep it. Not unless you were ready to die for it.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 6
  • Comfortless was my religion, anxiety of the anxieties, for I believed God was not love, but courage. Love came only as a reward.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 7
  • The Irish are the only men who know how to cry for the dirty polluted blood of all the world.
    • Detective Roberts, in Ch. 8
  • Madness is locked beneath. It goes into tissues, is swallowed by the cells. The cells go mad. Cancer is their flag. Cancer is the growth of madness denied.
    • Stephen Rojack, in Ch. 8

TIME interview (1991)

"His Punch Is Better Than Ever" by Bonnie Angelo in TIME magazine (30 September 1991)
  • I don't think we're ever going to have a cheap fascism of Brownshirts and goose stepping or anything of that sort. We're too American for that. We would find that ridiculous.
    But there are always traces of repression. And you can find it in a Democratic government too. People who are "right-minded," you know, are always with us. But I think so long as we can move along with the economy, we're all right. It's just if there's a smash, a crash — that's when I'm not at all optimistic about what's going to happen.
  • I love the idea of a left conservative because it gets rid of political cant. We're stifling in it. One of the diseases of the right is self-righteousness. I do believe that America's deepest political sickness is that it is a self-righteous nation.
    One of the diseases of the left is political correctness. If you're out of power for too long, then you just get worse and worse about how important your own ideas are.
  • I had a great many prejudices that have since dissolved. But what I still hate about the women's movement is their insistence upon male piety in relation to it. I don't like bending my knee and saying I'm sorry, mea culpa. I find now that women have achieved some power and recognition they are quite the equal of men in every stupidity and vice and misjudgment that we've exercised through history.
    They're narrow-minded, power seeking, incapable of recognizing the joys of a good discussion. The women's movement is filled with tyrants, just as men's political movements are equally filled.
    What I've come to discover are the negative sides, that women are no better than men. I used to think — this is sexism in a way, I'll grant it — that women were better than men. Now I realize no, they're not any better.
  • We've got an agreeable, comfortable life here as Americans. But under it there's a huge, free-floating anxiety. Our inner lives, our inner landscape is just like that sky out there — it's full of smog. We really don't know what we believe anymore, we're nervous about everything.
  • It's a misperception of me that I am a wild man — I wish I still were. I'm 68 years old. The rage now is, oh, so deep it's almost comfortable. It has even approached the point where I can live with it philosophically. The world's not what I want it to be. But then no one ever said I had the right to design the world.

Interview for French TV (1998)

Interview (1998) made for French television, first broadcast on French and US television in October 2000, as quoted in ["Mailer Tells a Lot. Not All, but a Lot.; His Longest Love Affair Is With the U.S." by Bernard Weinraub, in The New York Times (4 October 2000)
  • I've always felt that my relationship to the United States is analogous to a marriage. I love this country. I hate it. I get angry at it. I feel close to it. I'm charmed by it. I'm repelled by it. And it's a marriage that's gone on for let's say at least 50 years of my writing life, and in the course of that, what's happened? It's gotten worse. It's not what it used to be.
  • I certainly do have this feeling of affection for the absolute sense of intellectual freedom that exists as a live nerve, a live wire, right through the center of American life. ... Every time I get totally discouraged with this country, I remind myself, "No, the fact is that finally we can really say what we think, and some extraordinary things have come out of that."
  • We are as ugly as animals in our fashion, and unless we deal with the ugliness in ourselves, unless we deal with the violence in ourselves, the brutality in ourselves, and find some way to sublimate it, just to use Freud's term, into something slightly higher, we're never going to get anywhere with anything.
  • I knew that Jack needed a lot of help, and what he really needed was somebody who could spend a prodigious amount of time with him, every night, see him, live with him, live with him the way someone in A.A. lives with a drunk. ... I wasn't doing that. So when the crime occurred — because I'd just been hoping things would work out all right — when the crime occurred, I knew that I had a responsibility on that one.
    • On his role in the parole of Jack Abbott, during which Abbot killed a man.
  • Writing can wreck your body. You sit there on the chair hour after hour and sweat your guts out to get a few words.'
  • What's not realized about good novelists is that they're as competitive as good athletes. They study each other — where the other person is good and where the person is less good. Writers are like that but don't admit it.
  • He had a personality that was hopeless. He had a profound distrust of people's possibilities, and it came out in his personality. ... There was an almost indecent pleasure he took in being sentimental about all the worst things.
  • There's a detachment that you need as a writer. And as a young man, I probably had more detachment than I have today. So that part of me was just looking at the battlefield, and it was certainly full of horrors. There was a lieutenant with us and a driver and another enlisted man like myself. And I think they were shocked profoundly.'
    I just thought — this is a cold and cruel thing to say, but it's the way a writer is — I thought, "Oh, this is good." Not that it was good that all these people are dead. But "Oh, it's so good for writing." There was a sense of, "This can be used."

Quotes about Mailer

  • When you talk of Norman Mailer, right away I see van Gogh's work boots. Norman was a working man. Lord, did he work. From one end of his life to the other, he sat in solemn thought and left so much to read, so many pages with ideas that come at you like sparks spitting from a fire. He leaves them to a nation that has surrendered all its years to converting truth to an untruthful excuse for killing
  • He was really the great chronicler of his time, the champion of personal reportage. His output was prodigious, his range of interests very wide, from Marilyn Monroe to Picasso to the art of graffiti to extreme forms of crime. His vaunted life as a public figure may have actually impeded serious critical attention to much of his work. Presumably, it will be possible now
  • He was absolutely dauntless ... He was quite weak in the end, but he still planned to write a seven-volume novel about Hitler.
  • He was a very sweet-natured person, despite what some people think. And he was very very patient. I would take one of his manuscripts and make some suggestions and he would be very nice about it and say, 'Yes, you've given me something to think about.' And I would get the manuscript back and I would see that he had included none of my ideas
  • Norman was a splendid, surprising American writer, a good friend, a true New Yorker, and a man we will all miss. To me, it's like a thousand people just left the room. As a novelist, he never repeated himself, never succumbed to the temptation to write 'The Naked and the Dead Go to Japan,' and always made us imagine other lives, other choices, other varieties of human folly, grandeur and capacity for evil.
  • We would talk about everything ... He knew he wasn't going to live very much longer, but he would still talk of taking on the greatest subjects. He always was working on something.
  • He had such a compendious vision of what it meant to be alive. He had serious opinions on everything there was to have an opinion on, and everything he had was so original.
  • In the beginning, Mailer spins publicity for convict and murderer Jack Abbott, helps get Abbott's prison book published and Abbott paroled. The con with the prose style of a Doberman (all speed and teeth) obeys his muse again. Six weeks after parole, Abbott kills a man in New York City's East Village. ... It was common to hear New Yorkers say that he should be tried as an accessory to murder. Mailer barged around giving interviews and suing a newspaper for libel, looking truculent and stricken.
    In one way it was unfair: Mailer had had the courage to sponsor a talented pariah, and then something in Abbott's transition from prison went disastrously wrong. Mailer was personally aggrieved and pained, not only for Abbott but for Abbott's victim. It is true that certain writers adopt convicts: criminals, sinister, romantic and stupid as sharks, become the executive arms of intellectuals' violent fantasies. For some reason, intellectuals rarely understand that they are being conned: convicts are geniuses of ingratiation. Still, Mailer after all was not promoting a killer but a prose stylist and what he judged to be a salvageable human being. He miscalculated: he overrated the writer in Abbott and underestimated the murderer.
  • He could do anything he wanted to do — the movie business, writing, theater, politics. He never thought the boundaries were restricted. He'd go anywhere and try anything. He was a courageous person, a great person, fully confident, with a great sense of optimism
  • One night, we had a dinner party for the express purpose of introducing Mailer to Neil Gaiman. Neil, as was his habit, was so charming that Norman wanted to read The Sandman. He liked the series enough to provide a cover blurb for the next trade paperback collection. Neil later reported that bookstore buyers told him that the Mailer quote persuaded them to stock graphic novels. And the rest, as they say, is history.
  • He was interesting, because he was interested. ... I went to Provincetown a year or two ago and stayed with him and Norris. It was very pleasant. He was in good form. We both dislike the same things about our native land so we had lots to talk about.
  • That's a photograph of Norman Mailer. He was a very great writer; he, uh, donated his ego to the Harvard Medical School for study.


  • Alimony is the curse of the writing class.
  • There is no question that Hogg by Samuel R. Delany is a work of literary merit.

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Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923November 10, 2007) was an American writer and journalist.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer writes creative nonfiction, sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once on his journalism career. In 1955, Mailer, along with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which was showed to the Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation.

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