Innovator of the nonfiction novel and the towering figure in American literature for nearly 60 years, Norman Mailer developed in the 1960s and 1970s a form of journalism that combined real-life events, autobiography, and political commentary with the richness of the novel. Mailer's works always stirred controversy - because of their stylish non-conformity and his controversial views of American life.
Norman was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and was raised in Brooklyn by his parents Isaac “Barney” Mailer and Fanny. Mailer's first literary effort was a 250-page story called 'Invasion From Mars', which he penned at the age of nine in notebooks. It was not until he attended Harvard that he decided to become a writer. He graduated in 1943 with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering.
During World War II Mailer served as a sergeant in the United States Army based in the South Pacific. In his letters to first wife, Beatrice Silverman, he described what it was like to be on patrol. Not wanting to carry notes with him, these letters served as the basis for his debut novel, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1948). The Naked and Dead was born in fifteen months, and published when Mailer was just 25.
Mailer's subsequent novels did not receive similar respect. BARBARY SHORE (1951), which was set in a Brooklyn boarding house and depicted the conflict between a former radical and a federal agent, was labeled in Time Magazine as "paceless, tasteless, and graceless."
In the late 1940s Mailer worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. He moved to Greenwich Village in New York City in 1951. There, he co-founded The Village Voice, one of the earliest underground American newspapers.
Mailer's third novel, THE DEER PARK (1955), about the corruption of values in Hollywood, was refused by numerous publishers. In the thinly veiled story, Mailer dealt with his relationship with Adele Morales, an artist whom he married in 1954. Feeling like an outlaw, Mailer turned to jazz and marijuana and entered a chaotic period of life. In 1960 he stabbed Adele at the end of an all-night party in Manhattan. Mailer was given a suspended sentence when Adele refused to press charges.
In his notorious essay 'The White Negro,' Mailer examined violence, hysteria, crimes and confusion in American society through the fashionable existentialist framework. Mailer defined the hipster as a philosophical psychopath, and urban adventurer, who has adopted elements from black culture and could be called "a White Negro." To become a hipster is a conscious choice for members of the intellectual elite.
Mailer realized that he could write well about people like himself - people without roots and complexities, such as Henry Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and Picasso.
In 1969 he ran for the mayor of New York City with the campaign slogan, "No more bullshit."
In the Pulitzer Prize winning THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT (1968) he used the techniques of fiction, coupled with his own reactions to the events to portray the anti-war movement.
Mailer's outspoken style led him to clash with the feminist movement in the 1970s. In THE PRISONER OF SEX (1971) Mailer proposed that gender might determine the way a person perceives and orders reality. He was labeled as the quintessential male chauvinist pig in Kate Millett's "Sexual Politics".
Mailer published a highly successful true-life novel, THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG (1979). The story was about the life and death of convicted killer, Gary Gilmore, and won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
In 2005, Mailer was awarded the National Book Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. His final novel, THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST (2007), focused on a young Adolf Hitler and was narrated by a devil. Mailer died of renal failure on November 10, 2007, in Manhattan, at the age of 84. Mailer was married six times, and had 9 children.