Today would have been the 90th birthday of Norman Mailer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and journalist who also happened to write some enormously entertaining letters in his lifetime. Below are just three of the many thousands. The first was sent to one of his writing idols, Ernest Hemingway, along with a copy of The Deer Park; ten days later it bounced back, marked, according to Mailer, with the Spanish equivalent of “Address Unknown—Return to Sender.” He never got his opinion. The second letter was sent to Playboy magazine seven years later; the last letter reached Robert B. Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books, in 1965.
(Sources: Advertisements for Myself, The New Yorker, & Cannibals and Christians; Image: Norman Mailer, via.)
[To Hemingway, 1955, along with a copy of his new novel]
TO ERNEST HEMINGWAY
—because finally after all these
years I am deeply curious to know
what you think of this.
—but if you do not answer, or if you
answer with the kind of crap you
use to answer unprofessional writers,
sycophants, brown-nosers, etc., then
fuck you, and I will never attempt
to communicate with you again.
—and since I suspect that you’re even
more vain than I am, I might as well
warn you that there is a reference to
you on page 353 which you may or may
[To the Editor of Playboy]
December 21, 1962
I wish you hadn’t billed the debate between William Buckley and myself as a meeting between a conservative and a liberal. I don’t care if people call me a radical, a rebel, a red, a revolutionary, an outsider, an outlaw, a Bolshevik, an anarchist, a nihilist, or even a left conservative, but please don’t ever call me a liberal.
[To the Editor of The New York Review of Books]
February 22, 1965
Your letter, January 26, invites me to an “essay” of eighteen hundred words on the new Hubert Humphrey. In the last year you have also asked me to review biographies of Johnson (Jack) and George Patton. Since it is not easy to think of three books which could attract me less, I expect I must make my position clear. Forgive me for digging in old ground.
A year and a half ago, you asked me to review The Group. Said you had offered the novel to seven people—all seven were afraid to review it. You appealed to my manhood, my fierce eschatological sword. St. Mary’s wrath (according to you) was limned with brimfire. Would I do it, you begged, as a most special favor to you. Perhaps, as you suggested, I was the only man in New York who had the guts to do it. A shrewd appeal. I did it. Two months later my book (The Presidential Papers) came out. You had given the copy to Midge Decter for review. Her submitted piece was, in your opinion—I quote your label—”overinflated.” That is to say, it was favorable. Changes were requested. The reviewer refused to make them. The review was not printed. No review of The Presidential Papers appeared in The New York Review of Books. Only a parody. By a mystery guest. Now, we have my new book, An American Dream. I hear you have picked Philip Rahv to review it, Philip Rahv whose detestation of my work has been thundering these last two years into the gravy stains of every literary table on the Eastern Seaboard.
In the name therefore of the sweet gracious Jesus, why expect me to do eight words on your subject? To the contrary, experience now suspects that a state of cordial relations with The Review is congruent to a lack of cordial relations with The Review, and marks you, Bob, on this note: negotiations with your Editorship are, by open measure, inching, tedious, and impoverished as spit. But cheer up, dear Silvers. The letter is for publication, and so should enliven the literary history of your unbloodied rag.
Yours in trust,
cc: Barbara Epstein
Alexandra T. Emmet
A. Whitney Ellsworth
Samuel N. Antupit