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Norman Mailer Return to the Timeline
Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer on balcony of his Brooklyn apartment June 1965. Mailer has analyzed the myths and unconscious impulses that underlie human behavior.

Henry Grossman/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Norman Mailer, (1923-...), is an American author. Critics have sometimes attacked his work as sensational or self-indulgent. But Mailer's readers usually find his essays and novels fascinating and disturbing because they mirror the underside of modern culture. Mailer has analyzed the myths and unconscious impulses that underlie human behavior. He often stresses sex and violence, but he uses these elements for artistic purposes and not merely to shock. Mailer is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious, provocative American writers since the mid-1900's.

Mailer first achieved success with his war novel THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1948). In BARBARY SHORE (1951), he wrote about politics. THE DEER PARK (1955) describes the corruption of artistic and social values in Hollywood. AN AMERICAN DREAM (1965) concerns events surrounding a man's murder of his wife. However, it is also a surrealistic journey through the power structures and obsessions of modern urban America. His novel WHY ARE WE IN VIETNAM? (1967) extends such thematic concerns through an examination of the violence Mailer sees as basic to the American spirit. THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG (1979) is based on the life of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who was executed in 1977. The book won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE (1984) is a violent detective story. HARLOT'S GHOST (1991) is a long, elaborate spy novel about the Central Intelligence Agency. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON (1997) is a fictionalized autobiography of Jesus Christ. THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST (2007) is a novel that explores the boyhood of the German dictator Adolf Hitler.

Many of Mailer's best essays about literature and culture were collected in ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF (1959) and EXISTENTIAL ERRANDS (1972). THE SHORT FICTION OF NORMAN MAILER was published in 1967. THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT (1968), which describes his experiences and observations during a peace demonstration, shared the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. MIAMI AND THE SIEGE OF CHICAGO (1968) represents Mailer's reactions to the 1968 national political conventions. His thoughts on writing were collected in THE SPOOKY ART (2003). Mailer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, on Jan. 31, 1923.

Victor A. Kramer, Ph.D., Professor of English, Georgia State University.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Norman Mailer and related subjects.

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The American Novel