Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tough Guys Don’t Live Forever

Controversial American author Norman Mailer died this morning at age 84. He rose to international fame in 1948 with the publication of The Naked and the Dead, a novel based on his experiences during World War II. He went on to co-create a genre of writing known as “creative non-fiction” and help found The Village Voice; win the Pulitzer Price twice (for Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song) and the National Book Award once (also for Armies); protest the Vietnam War, oppose women’s liberation, and run for the New York City mayor’s office; marry six times and have nine children; and become famous for his feuds with fellow wordsmiths Gore Vidal, William Styron, and Truman Capote. However, Mailer never lost sight of the fact that he was, first and foremost and always, a writer. And like all determined writers, he was a willing slave to his work, unable to imagine himself doing anything else except continuing to turn out words on the page that either sang or sank, but that he thought worth writing, and that he would write--no matter the skepticism voiced by critics.

“I am the only major writer in America who has had more bad reviews than good reviews in the course of his writing life,” Mailer once told an interviewer. “So that gives me a certain pride, you know. I feel they keep taking their best shot, and they’re ... not going to stop me, ya know.”

There are many fine remembrances being either published or broadcast today of Norman Mailer, the runty New Jersey kid who grew up to be a giant of his craft, and there will no doubt be considerably more to come in the next week. (One of the best so far is Lynn Neary’s segment this morning on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday.) Yet the greatest tribute to Mailer is the endurance of his literary efforts. His writing will outlive him by a longshot, which is just what every author wants for his or her own work.

READ MORE:Norman Mailer: Death of an Icon” (Guardian Unlimited); “Remembering Norman Mailer Through His Books,” by A.O. Scott (Salon); “Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With Matching Ego, Is Dead,” by Charles McGrath (The New York Times); “Mailer Made America His Subject,” by Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times); “Remembrances: Norman Mailer 1923-2007,” compiled by Dana Cook (Salon); “Stormin’ Norman,” by Gregory Kirschling (Entertainment Weekly).