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Mike Lennon remembers Norman Mailer

david wilson

Mike Lennon remembers when he and Norman Mailer became acquainted. “I saw him on the Dick Cavett show, the famous show when he was on with Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner, and they got into an imbroglio over various issues,” Lennon said. “I wrote him a letter and told him that I thought Vidal had maligned him unfairly. Lo and behold, I got a wonderful long letter back from him.” Then a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Lennon says he was “quite shocked and moved” that the famous author would write him back.

The next year, 1972, Lennon was teaching a seminar on Mailer’s work when the author came through Illinois on a book tour. “I took my class to the college where he was speaking,” Lennon said. “We met and had a great time, closed up the bar that night around 2 a.m. He invited me to come visit him in Provincetown the following summer.”

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Their friendship would last until Mailer’s 2007 death and grew to include the books the two coauthored and co-edited, as well as the books Lennon wrote about Mailer. “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” was published last fall, and this December will be joined by a volume of the author’s selected letters, edited by Lennon.

Was there ever a conflict between being Mailer’s biographer and his friend? “There’s supposed to be,” Lennon laughed. “But Mailer was open to criticism. He liked it when someone threw a hardball at him every once in awhile.”

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Mailer should be remembered for three things, Lennon said: as a creator, along with Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese, of the New Journalism; as a chronicler of the American era between the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War; and as one of the last great public intellectuals, whose Chicago debate before a crowd of 3,600 with William F. Buckley in 1962 was covered by The New York Times — “above the fold!” Lennon crowed.

Lennon will read from the biography at 5 p.m. Friday at the Provincetown Public Library, 356 Commercial St. Especially in Provincetown, Lennon said, “Norman is ever present; he’s a tough guy to forget. And I do miss him because he was full of life, full of energy.” The $15 minimum donation supports the library; refreshments will be served.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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