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Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer had long been courted by Harper’s Magazine editor Willie Morris to write for the publication, but “Mailer was anathema to the group that was then running Harper’s,” Morris recalled. “They were scared to death of him. I think they expected some kind of naked Bolshevik.”

“The Steps of the Pentagon” (March 1968) was Mailer’s first article for Harper’s; his editor at the time, Midge Decter, said that “Norman went to the demonstrations [at the Pentagon], got himself arrested, and then a day or two later he called up Harper’s and said, ‘I’d like to do a piece on it.’” At ninety-five pages, it was the longest article the magazine had ever published, and it makes up the first half of The Armies of the Night (1968), for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Harper’s rejected the second half for publication, considering it anticlimactic, and it was instead published in Commentary’s April 1968 issue. His second article for Harper’s was “Miami Beach and Chicago” (November 1968), which was simultaneously published in book form as Miami and the Siege of Chicago.

In 1969, Morris suggested that Mailer write an article for the magazine on the moon landing. Mailer turned it down: “These things I’ve been doing for Harper’s have been participatory journalism. How can I participate in a landing on the moon?” he said. “God damnit, I really would like to go to the moon.” Mailer even said he’d get in shape. He ended up writing a moon-landing piece for Life, which paid him more.

Mailer’s third and final article for Harper’s, “The Prisoner of Sex” (March 1971), a controversial critique of the women’s liberation movement, sold more copies of the magazine than any previous issue. As with “Steps,” nearly the entire issue was devoted to Mailer’s article. Morris’s resignation at the beginning of March—he told the press that Mailer’s article “has deeply disturbed the magazine’s owners” and that he was “leaving as a protest against the calculated destruction of Harper’s”—only further fueled interest, as did Mailer’s public feud with Gore Vidal. Vidal’s critique of “Prisoner” in a July issue of The New York Review of Books positioned Mailer as the crux in a lineage beginning with Henry Miller and concluding with Charles Manson, which he termed the “Miller-Mailer-Manson man (or M3 for short).” “M3’s reaction to Women’s Liberation has been one of panic,” Vidal wrote. Before their joint appearance on a December 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, Mailer head-butted Vidal, and Vidal punched Mailer in the stomach. “We all know that I stabbed my wife many years ago,” Mailer complained on the program. “You were playing on that.”

Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), was published when the writer was twenty-five, and he later claimed that its success had performed “a lobotomy to my past.”

Mailer cofounded The Village Voice in 1955, and unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City in 1969 on a platform of secession from New York state. He was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song in 1980. Mailer died at age eighty-four, in 2007—the year his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, was published.

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March 1968

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