Alongside Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson is Norman Mailer, an innovator of creative non-fiction and an influence on the New Journalism of the 1960’s. Mailer was part of a literary generation that included Gore Vidal and which sought to advance “The Great American Novel.” He became known for his counter-cultural essays in the 1950’s, and in 1955 he co-founded The Village Voice magazine. His essay “The White Negro” (1957) examined and defended the moral radicalism that Mailer believed to come with being an outsider. It remains one of the most highly controversial and collected essays of the post-war period. He published his first novel The Naked and the Dead in 1948, but it was not until his 1969 publication of Armies of the Night that he won his first Pulitzer Prize. Armies of the Night was a journalistic novel that casted himself as a hero in the march on the Pentagon to stop the war. Mailer’s popularity soared from the mid 50’s to the late 60’s, but with the election of Ronald Reagan and a new sense of political correctness, Mailer fell into decline.
His work was often seen as crass and exploitative. The Executioner’s Song won Mailer his second Pulitzer Prize in 1979, and it seemed for a moment as if the author had turned a new leaf . The novel depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah in 1977. Its style is exhaustive. Mailer interviews the family and friends of Gilmore and his victims, and he details Gilmore’s court appearances which culminate ultimately in the criminal’s demand for his own execution. More than a mere portrayal of anguish, the book took a stand on the national debate over the revival of capital punishment. Indeed, Gilmore was the first U.S. criminal executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. But the novel failed to resurge Mailer’s popularity when it became public knowledge that he used another’s research. Truman Capote marked the significant end of Mailer’s career when he described him as “just a rewrite man like you have over at the Daily News.” Nonetheless, the political and literary controversies that Mailer instigated are memorable developments in the New Journalism movement, and his corpus remains a collectible glance into the social tensions of the mid-Twentieth Century.