Novelist Norman Mailer is born in Long Branch, New Jersey, on this day in 1923. Mailer grew up in Brooklyn and attended Harvard. During World War II, he joined the army, then studied at the Sorbonne, where he wrote his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), based on his own experiences in the Army. The book, which closely chronicles the lives of 13 soldiers stationed in the Pacific, became a popular and critical success.
Mailer’s next two books, Barbaray Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955), were savaged by critics, but his subsequent journalistic memoirs fared better. The Armies of the Night (1968), a memoir of his participation in the famous Washington, D.C., peace march of 1967, won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the National Book Award in 1969. His novel The Executioner’s Song, a fictionalized account of the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1980. In 1991, his four-pound novel Harlot’s Ghost explored the CIA from 1948 through the Kennedy administration.
Mailer’s reputation as a hard-drinking, tough-talking anti-feminist made him a controversial literary figure in the 1970s and 1980s. His high-profile exploits included drinking binges, the alleged stabbing of his second wife at a party, and running for mayor of New York City. The father of nine children by six wives, he died on November 10, 2007, at 84.