Norman Mailer
Lecture Date: 4-3-1990
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Interview: Introductions for writer Norman Mailer are made by Dean John Eadie and Professor Kathleen Rout who describes many of Mailer's controversial works for the audience. Mailer begins his lecture by stating that he has no idea about what he is going to lecture. The first topic he stumbles onto is the perks of being an artist, in which he discusses the drastic differences between painters and writers. Mailer expresses contempt for some modern-day artists because, as he sees it, the celebrity of the artist has replaced talent. He compares art, and eventually politics, to advertising and considers the implications of taxation for advertising. Mailer then prepares to read some of his poetry, which he describes as being “very clear but not very good.” The author attempts to define poetry by giving an example of what poetry is not. He considers his own “poems” to be right on the brink of being poetry. After this reading, Mailer skips to the topic of the vanity of America. He emphasizes the fear Americans have of “venturing into new terrain” which leads to him reading three or four sections from his book Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984). When questioned by the audience, Mailer discusses such topics as his inspirations, Gore Vidal (with whom he had a short feud), and his non-existent newspaper career. He explains his writing process, describing it as a boring ritual. Mailer contrasts his views of literature today with the opinions of fellow authors E. L. Doctorow and Tom Wolfe. He concludes his presentation by reading what he considers to be the best poem he ever wrote.
Biography: Controversial writer Norman Mailer used his personal experiences to invigorate the nonfiction novel. Born in Long Branch, New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Mailer received his S.B. in engineering from Harvard in 1943, and was drafted for World War II in 1944. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), was based on his experiences in the war and won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. After many rejections as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Mailer became famous as an anti-establishment essayist. During the 1960s and 1970s, the writer introduced a new style to journalism which incorporated events, political commentary, and autobiography. Mailer acquired his second Pulitzer for The Executioner’s Song (1979), a work based on the life of convicted killer Gary Gilmore. Mailer has been married six times, has nine children, and resides in Provincetown, Massachusetts.