NO CAREER IN MODERN AMERICAN LETTERS has been at once so brilliant, varied, controversial and productive as that of Norman Mailer. Among the most influential writers of the second half of the 20th century, Mailer achieved fame at an early age with his first book, The Naked and the Dead (1948), and by the time he won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song in 1980 he was often referred to as the American Tolstoy. Few writers matched Mailer’s intelligence and intensity. And none have written on such a high level in so many genres and on such varied subjects.
Mailer wrote a dozen novels, twenty works of nonfiction, a few stage plays, screenplays, and television miniseries, hundreds of essays, two books of poetry, and a collection of short stories. Novelist Joan Didion said of his work, “There was no voice like his;” calling him “a great and obsessed stylist.” Time magazine acknowledged, “For a heady period, no major public event in U.S. life seemed quite complete until Mailer had observed himself observing it.”
Mailer began his writing career as a student at Harvard in 1939. After graduating in 1943, Mailer reported for duty in the army. In January 1945 Mailer landed on the Philippine island of Luzon, where he began taking notes that would become the basis for his novel The Naked and the Dead.
On May 2, 1946, he was discharged from the army and he began writing his novel in a bungalow on a deserted expanse of beach outside Provincetown on Cape Cod. For the next six decades Mailer would regularly return to Provincetown to write. He wrote some or all of 30 books there, becoming a part of the town’s cultural heritage. Provincetown had become for him what Key West and Cuba had become for Hemingway. In 1990 Mailer made Provincetown his permanent home, becoming what the locals call a “year- rounder.”
“I swear that Norman Mailer’s spirit continues to inhabit 627 Commercial Street because I could almost hear him pacing his office in the attic, swearing, snoring, typing, faxing. He lives on, pushing and prodding us newbie writers to get our voices out into the world.” –Martha Chang (2009 workshop participant)
It was the dream of Mailer and his wife Norris that their home not be lost to history. It is located on the water, along the curve of shore of Provincetown Harbor. Boston is two and a half hours away by car and is also accessible by ferry and plane. Mailer’s third-floor study, where he wrote many of his major works since 1975, looks out on Provincetown. It remains as he left it, with the books, notes and research materials that he was using as he worked on his next project.
The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony, a non-profit organization for educational purposes, has been established to honor Norman Mailer’s work and lifelong interest in and commitment to writers and writing programs. The Mailer house in Provincetown serves as the Center’s and Colony’s headquarters for students, fellows, writers and scholars from all over the world.
The Center operates under the leadership of a distinguished Board of Directors consisting of Lawrence Schiller, Spas Roussev, Sam Radin, Tina Brown, John Buffalo Mailer, Michael Mailer, J. Michael Lennon, and Susan Mailer. A group of councils composed of writers, scholars and educators offer consultation to the Board on literary, academic and administrative matters. Joan Didion, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Günter Grass, William Kennedy, Colum McCann, Salman Rushdie and Gay Talese sit on the Writers Council. Kennedy and McCann also join Nicholas Foulkes, Dylan Jones, and Dr. Thomas Staley on the Advisory Council to the Board. Da Chen, David Henry Hwang, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amitava Kumar, Suketu Mehta, and Anchee Min sit on the Asia Council. Ted Conover, Anne Fadiman, Lee Gutkind, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Barbara Lounsberry, Sigrid Nunez, Jay Parini and Writers Council members Colum McCann and William Kennedy serve as judges for the Mailer Student and Teacher Writing Awards.
The centerpiece of the Norman Mailer Center’s programming is its writers colony housed in Mailer’s home in Provincetown, MA. The Colony offers competitive month-long fellowships in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, with direction from distinguished mentors and guest speakers. A set of creative writing workshops explore what Mailer called “the spooky art of writing” in a diverse set of genres and sub-genres: dramaturgy, screenwriting, poetry, fiction and young adult fiction, historical narrative, memoir, and literary journalism for print and web. The Center is developing partnerships to begin offering workshops in New York City in 2013. The Colony’s
writers retreat program provides emerging and established writers with time, space and a surround of peace and quiet in which to work on new projects, in the landscape of Provincetown that brought so many of Mailer’s works to fruition over a period of 30 years, and inspired hundreds of resident and visiting artists since the turn of the last century.
The Center is in the process of launching a multidimensional international exchange program that celebrates the role that culture, place, and environment so often play in the creation of great literature. Programs in development include: a Cuban initiative, gathering Latin American and North American authors in a country with a rich and varied artistic legacy; a Writers Congress in Russia, which will invite the public to join a distinguished panel of international writers for a discussion of current events; and the American Literature and Society Travel-Study Program, which introduces authors from East and South Asia to an exploration of the connection between art and environment, as writers travel from Hemingway’s Key West to Steinbeck’s Salinas, O’Connor’s Milledgeville to Wharton’s Lenox.
In celebration of writers at all stages of their careers who embody the inquisitive spirit of Norman Mailer, the Center awards a slate of writing prizes. The Mailer Prize honors those who have made tremendous contributions in writing and publishing; previous winners are Joyce Carol Oates, Barnet Lee Rosset Jr., Robert A. Caro, Ruth Gruber, David Halberstam, Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk, Keith Richards, Arundhati Roy, Gay Talese, Jann Wenner, and Elie Wiesel. In conjunction with the National Council of Teachers of English, the Center also makes awards to promising student writers in high school, two-year and four-year college, as well as to high school teachers, for original creative writing. Prizes for the Mailer Student and Teacher Writing Awards include cash awards and scholarships and fellowships at the Colony.
The Norman Mailer Center has collaborations with the Provincetown International Film Festival, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Provincetown Public Library, the Fine Arts Work Center, Strand Books, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and other cultural and educational institutions in Provincetown, MA and New York, NY to bring events to writers and readers in both cities.
TO KEEP THE CENTER ALIVE, The Norman Mailer Center needs to be supported by an endowment of $12-$14 million, which will be used to purchase the Mailer house in Provincetown and sustain the Center’s operations. A Capital Campaign to purchase the Mailer Home, launched in 2011, seeks to purchase and preserve the Mailer house in Provincetown as the continued home of the Colony’s fellowship, workshop and retreat programs, and as the repository for Mailer’s personal library of some 4,000 volumes with the author’s handwritten notes and observations. The Norman Mailer Center Annual Benefit Gala in New York, NY is the cornerstone of our general fundraising program. The Fourth Annual Benefit Gala was held on October 4, 2012.