J. Michael Lennon, vice president emeritus for academic affairs, professor emeritus of English and
co-founder of the graduate creative writing program at Wilkes University, release
his new biography of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer: A Double Life was released Oct. 15 by Simon & Schuster and is described by The Washington Post as “a great wallop of a book.”
Hailed as a “must read” by Kirkus Reviews, the book reflects Mailer’s dual identities: journalist and activist, devoted family
man and notorious philanderer, intellectual and fighter, writer and public figure.
Lennon is Mailer’s authorized biographer and was given access to thousands of letters,
interviews and other materials. Integrating the streams of material became the most
difficult part of the biography project for Lennon. Included in the plethora of papers
were over 45,000 letters written to and by Mailer, unpublished journals and interviews
with Mailer, his friends and family. One of Lennon’s chief challenges was ensuring
that Mailer and his private life were accorded as much exposition and analysis as
the public man.
He describes how he got to know the late author. “In 1971, right after he got into
a tussle with Gore Vidal on the Dick Cavett Show, I wrote him a letter of support,
and also passed on some of my theories about his recent nonfiction books, which were
changing the way major events were reported,” Lennon says. Mailer was one of the leading
voices of the New Journalism during the 1960s. This literary genre is a writing technique
that combines fictional story telling with reportage.
After corresponding, Lennon and Mailer met in fall 1972 at Western Illinois University.
Mailer had presented a reading from his account of the 1972 elections. “We talked
late into the night at a local bar,” recalls Lennon, who chairs the Mailer Review board. “And every summer after that, my family and I visited him in Maine or Provincetown,
Mass.” Over time, they grew closer as Lennon began editing books by and about Mailer.
In 1986, after reading Lennon’s book, Critical Essays on Norman Mailer, Mailer asked him to serve as one of his literary executors.
Mailer described his relationship with Lennon in the preface of a bio-bibliography
Norman Mailer: Works and Days,
written by Lennon and his wife, Donna Pedro Lennon. “Sometimes I think Mike Lennon
and I were as designed for each other as some species of American Yin and Yang, as
hot dogs, perhaps, and mustard. His talents, his discipline, and his ambition form
a compliment to all the slacks, voids, and indolences of my nature,” Mailer wrote.
Mailer won Pulitzer Prizes for The Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song. His first book, The Naked and the Dead, was an enormous bestseller, and Mailer would have 10 more bestsellers from the 44
books he published. He also was co-founder of The Village Voice.
Wilkes University offers the M.A./M.F.A. in Creative Writing
with areas of study in creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, screenwriting and playwriting.
New in 2014 are genres in publishing and making documentary films. Mailer, who died
in 2007 at 84, was the founding chair of the program’s advisory board
. Lennon co-founded the program with program director Bonnie Culver.