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Norman Mailer Biography

(1923– ), The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore, The Deer Park, Advertisements for Myself

American novelist, essayist, and journalist, born in Long Branch, New Jersey, he grew up in Brooklyn and was educated at Harvard. Mailer served with the armed forces in the Pacific during the Second World War, which provided the background for his highly successful first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948). His following novels, Barbary Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955), were poorly received. At this time, Mailer was moving philosophically towards a particularly personal version of existentialism, which received expression in numerous of the essays and short stories collected in Advertisements for Myself (1959), the most notable of which were ‘The White Negro’, ‘The Time of Her Time’, and ‘The Man Who Studied Yoga’. This collection describes his turbulent career in the decade after the war: marriage and divorces; disillusionment with left-wing politics; experiments with drugs and with new fictional styles. During the 1960s he produced mainly journalism and essays, and he was one of the driving forces behind what became ‘New Journalism’ with its blurring of the boundaries between fiction and fact. The work of this period includes The Presidential Papers (1963), a varied selection of past writings; Cannibals and Christians (1966); Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967); and The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History (1968), his report of the huge 1967 anti-Vietnam War march on the Pentagon (see Vietnam Writing). His most notorious work is An American Dream (1965). Stephen Rojack, the hero-as-hipster, murders his wife and sexually abuses her maid, in a book which is often gruesome in its depiction of violence and which has been regarded as autobiographical fantasizing. It marked the beginning of a series of collisions between Mailer and the leading members of the Women's Liberation Movement, which he did nothing to ameliorate by writing The Prisoner of Sex (1971), a polemical attack on Kate Millett and an account of his belief that the Women's Liberation Movement was intellectually feeble. During this time, Mailer ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York in 1969, and acted in a number of films, including Maidstone (1968). Other books include A Fire on the Moon (1970), on NASA's first lunar spaceflight; a biography of Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn (1973); The Fight (1975), an account of the Foreman–Ali heavy-weight fight in Zaire; and Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller (1976). In addition, other collections of essays and miscellaneous material on culture, politics, sport, sex, rocketry, speeches, lectures, and manifestos are to be found in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), St. George and the Godfather (1972), Existential Errands (1972), Some Honorable Men (1975), and Pieces and Pontifications (1982). His work and life continued to provoke controversies, often caused by the aggressive and idiosyncratic critical positions he has adopted. His later works include The Executioner's Song (1979), a lengthy study of Gary Gilmore's criminal life; Ancient Evenings (1983), a vast ‘historical’ novel set in Egypt; Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984); Harlot's Ghost (1991), a huge novel about the CIA, and the intricate network of deceptions, double-crossings, and espionage of secret agents, in the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence; Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (1995); and Pablo and Fernande: Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretative Biography (1995).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Madras House to Harriet Martineau Biography