Norman Mailer: Biography, Books & Essays

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This lesson details the colorful life and works of Norman Mailer, a literary icon known for his novels, essays and plays as well as his many wives. Learn about his life events, books and essays, then test your knowledge with the quiz!

Norman Mailer: Egotist or Excellent?

Occasionally, an artist acts a fool. An errant actor or actress jumps on a couch on national television, steals a car, or goes to rehab. A musician runs on stage at an award show to tell the voting audience why they have made the incorrect choice.

Though sometimes for the wrong reasons, the public becomes interested in the artist's work. American author Norman Mailer was such a celebrity. He did not act out to draw attention to his work; instead, he displayed erratic behavior because it was his nature. This outrageous behavior spilled over into his work, where Mailer produced both novels and written essays that have become ingrained into the idea of the American novel.

Mailer's Many Wives and Other Biographical Details

Norman Mailer was born in New Jersey in 1923. His mother doted on him and considered him her greatest accomplishment, despite his having a sister. He excelled in school and entered Harvard as a freshman at the age of sixteen. While Mailer originally planned to study engineering, he found success and meaning in literature. He graduated from Harvard in 1943 and was drafted into the Army. Mailer was assigned to the Pacific, where he primarily worked as a cook.

Mailer married Beatrice Silverman, the first of his wives, prior to leaving for the Pacific in 1944, and they had one child. The couple divorced in 1952. Mailer then married Adele Morales in 1954 and had two daughters with her. He stabbed Morales in 1960 while intoxicated, and she had to undergo emergency surgery. Mailer was committed to a psychiatric ward for seventeen days following this incident, but he did not serve any prison time as Morales refused to press charges. In 1962, the pair divorced.

The author married Lady Jeanne Campbell in 1962 and divorced her the following year. They had one daughter. He married Beverly Bentley in 1963, and they had two sons prior to divorcing in 1980. Mailer married Carol Stevens for one day in 1980 in order to legitimize their daughter, who was born nine years previously. He married his final wife, Norris Church, the same year and adopted her son from a previous marriage. The couple also had another son and were together until Mailer's death.

Mailer continued to write until the end of his life. His health began to decline in the 1990s, and he had chronic problems with arthritis, his heart, and other organ systems. Norman Mailer passed away on Nov. 10, 2007, of acute renal failure and was buried in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he and his family had a summer home for many years.

Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer

Books and Essays

Norman Mailer wrote nonfiction, both biographies and accounts of things that had occurred. He also penned novels, thousands of letters, and several books of essays. He is known as one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, a career that kicked off with the publication of his first novel The Naked and the Dead. This novel, published in 1948 and partially based on Mailer's experience in World War II, was one of the most critically acclaimed of Mailer's works.

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