Mailer Review Focuses on Two "Literary Warriors"

The two celebrated writers never spoke face to face, but curiously observed each other from a distance.

 

By Barbara Melendez

USF.edu News Writer

 

TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2011) – Masculinity, toughness, fantasy women, violence, war, boxing, guns – these are the themes that unite two of the 20th Century’s greatest writers, Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway.  

The latest issue of The Mailer Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, a publication of the University of South Florida and the Norman Mailer Society, puts them on the same bill to provide lovers of Hemingway and Mailer a rich, varied and detailed exploration of the two authors’ connections. 

Mailer was a Young Turk to Hemingway’s literary lion at the point when their paths first crossed.  Though a generation apart, they each achieved fame at roughly the same age. The two celebrated writers never spoke face to face, but observed each other from a curious distance, catching a glimpse of each other, it is believed, only once at a party as Mailer’s star was rising. The place their lives intersected was in earning the distinction of changing the face of literature – in their respective halves of the century. 

“It made perfect sense to bring the two together for an issue of The Mailer Review,” said the journal’s editor, English Professor Phillip Sipiora.  “They stand out as groundbreaking 20th Century authors and as cultural iconoclasts.  We’ve come to think of them as literary warriors with common interests and experiences who together conquered new territory in the manipulation of language and ideas of what it means to be human.”

Often compared, the two literary giants and their similarities provide ample fodder for opinions and speculations. The annual Norman Mailer Society Conference held in 2010 at USF devoted three days to them. Mailer himself admitted to and reveled in Hemingway’s influence on his writing. Critics and scholars have added their own takes on the influence and the journal brings together some of the most important writers to investigate all the different ways the two experienced a meeting of the minds and spirits.

The new issue features articles by leading Hemingway and Mailer scholars, including J. Michael Lennon, currently writing Mailer’s authorized biography; James H. Meredith, president of the International Hemingway Foundation and Society; and Hemingway’s son, John; along with an interview with the late Norris Church Mailer about her late husband, and comparisons of the two writers by Donald L. Kaufmann and several others.

The journal’s contents cover wide-ranging territory. There’s a poem by Mailer referencing two of Hemingway’s characters, an imagined dialogue between the two in play form, a look at their “construction” of women – real and imagined, their use of firearms in their work, their love of boxing complete with a fantasy match-up, their approaches to masculinity, the American Civil War and their treatment of Soviet Reds, of nostalgia and of war.  Another highlight is a photograph of the only known letter from Hemingway to Mailer and a letter that went undelivered from Mailer to Hemingway. The issue is rounded out by memoires from close friends and a look at Mailer’s blurbs for other authors.

 

Sipiora knew Mailer fairly well, once entertaining him at his home, and had visited Mailer at his Brooklyn Heights home as well as at his residence in Provincetown, Mass.

 

“I treasure the experience of having met a great living author during his lifetime,” said Sipiora, who met Mailer at Harvard in 1990 when both were speakers at a Hemingway international conference. “And to be able to associate with others who’ve shared that experience in the Mailer Society, as well as work with people who can give posterity the kind of contemporary analysis that will illuminate his work for future researchers, writers and readers is a scholar’s dream.”

 

The deputy editor, Michael Shuman, who also teaches in the USF English Department and serves as coordinator of USF’s internship program in professional and technical writing, is one of several contributors to this issue who attended lectures given by Mailer during his college tours in the early 1970s. 

“Mailer had this way of attracting people and still does,” said Shuman. “Witness the great diversity of writers – by age, gender and discipline – we find to contribute to each issue, including this one. His work is relevant to so many writers in so many different areas of life – in this country and around the world, that you can find so many different ways to look at the man and his work. What’s especially impressive is that there are young people interested in Mailer and we want to encourage them to keep his relevance alive. You can learn so much about the 20th Century by reading Hemingway and Mailer.”

Even the cover is a treat, the two authors in military dress and in boxing gloves, key leitmotifs from both their lives.

For more information on how to obtain copies of The Mailer Review, and about the forthcoming Mailer conference (yet to be announced), visit http://normanmailersociety.org/the-mailer-review/. 

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.