Norman Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film-maker, actor, and political activist. His novel The Naked and the Dead was published in 1948 and brought him almost instant renown. His best-known work is widely considered to be The Executioner’s Song (1979) winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Armies of the Night won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and the National Book Award.
From the mid-1950s, Mailer became known for his counter-cultural essays. In 1955, he co-founded The Village Voice and was initially an investor and silent partner,but later he wrote a column called from January to April 1956. While these articles, seventeen in total, were not Mailer’s best work, they were important in his development of a philosophy of hip, or “American existentialism,” and allowed him to discover his penchant for journalism. Mailer’s famous essay “The White Negro” (1957) fleshes out the Hipster figure who stands in opposition of forces that seek debilitating conformity in American society. It is one of the most anthologized, and controversial, essays of the postwar period. Mailer republished it in 1959 in his miscellany Advertisements for Myself which he described as “The first work I wrote with a style I could call my own.” The reviews were positive, and most commentators referred to it as his breakthrough work.
His major new journalism, or creative nonfiction books, also include Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), an account of the 1968 political conventions; Of a Fire on the Moon (1971), a long report on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon; The Prisoner of Sex (1971), his response to Kate Millett’s critique of the patriarchal myths in the works of Mailer, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, and D.H. Lawrence; and The Fight (1975), an account of Muhammad Ali’s 1974 defeat in Zaire of George Foreman for the heavyweight boxing championship. Miami, Fire, and Prisoner were all finalists for the National Book Award. The hallmark of his five New Journalism works in his use of illeism, or referring to oneself in the third person, rather than the first. Mailer said he got the idea from reading The Education of Henry Adams (1918) when he was a Harvard freshman. Norman Mailer also employed many of the most common techniques of fiction in his creative nonfiction.
This interview, done for the pre-PBS, NET program Book Beat was done in January of 1969, days before Richard Nixon would be inaugurated. The look back at the Conventions, particularly the Democratic Convention in Chicago, illustrated to what extent the political and idealogical divide had gone and just how fractured we had become as a society in general.
Here is that interview with Norman Mailer from Book Beat – January 15, 1969.