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, will read from his new biography of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the Henry Student Center at Wilkes University. Norman Mailer: A Double Life released Oct. 15 by Simon & Schuster, is described by The Washington Post as “a great wallop of a book.” The event, which includes a book sale and signing, is free and open to the public.
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 Included in the plethora of papers were over 45,000 letters written to and by Mailer, unpublished journals and interviews with Mailer, his friends and family.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.
Mailer, who died in 2007 at 84, was the founding chair of the Wilkes Graduate Creative Writing Program advisory board. He was the keynote speaker at the June 2004 writing conference that kicked off the program. His wife, Norris Church Mailer, succeeded him on the advisory board and remained involved with the program until her death in November 2010. The Mailer family established a scholarship in her name.