Gathering an Outlaw's Best - In Part

USF English professor is part of “a Mailer Renaissance” with his new book, Mind of an Outlaw.

By Barbara Melendez

      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 25, 2013) – USF English Professor Phillip Sipiora was recently interviewed by Esquire Magazine and asked “What would Norman Mailer think of the Tea Party?” – for a piece with that question as its headline and the subtitle, “Why his writings are more relevant to America now than ever.”

The opinion of a man dead since 2007?

“I think this very notion gets to the heart of why we have The Mailer Review, why we have this amazing new biography by J. Michael Lennon and why there’s interest in my compilation of a good portion of Mailer’s essays in Mind of an Outlaw. Yes, Mailer still matters,” Sipiora said.

Both Lennon’s biography of Mailer and Sipiora’s book arrived on stores’ bookshelves this month. The new edition of the Mailer Review is now available as well (see below).

Sipiora participated in the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading in October at USF St. Petersburg. He read from his book and signed copies afterwards.

Sipiora welcomed the opportunity to interact with readers at the festival.

“This truly is one of the Southeast’s premier literary events, and I’m honored to have been invited,” Sipiora said. “People who love to read are the perfect audience for a writer like Mailer. Lennon puts it so well,” Sipiora said referring to a Publisher’s Weekly interview with Mailer’s authorized biographer: “He was a man of his times, there’s no doubt about that. But he also reinvented the role of the public intellectual and he was at the beginning of many trends in journalism, nonfiction writing, and long-form narrative. The thing about Mailer was that he wanted to be the first to try this or do that. He had breakthroughs writing about sex, about violence, using four-letter words.”

Sipiora adds, “Mailer’s legacy is so much about encouraging writers to take chances, to be unafraid, to be bold, to be outlandish in their thinking and writing and to aim as high as Mailer did,” Sipiora said. “He was far from perfect as a human being and his writing was uneven at times, but the brilliance is undeniable in his best work and worthy of delving into, if you mean to be well-read. If anyone ever shook up the status quo, it was Mailer. The essays I’ve chosen – and I had to leave many more out than I eventually used – take us on a wonderful journey through the decades.”

And as he wrote of Mailer in his preface to the essays, “His ongoing confrontation with the country he loved (and he did not love) was always in the spirit of productive intellectual engagement that would, ideally, lead to a further freeing of the American spirit. …Mailer often spoke for - and of - himself, of course, but he also felt a responsibility to speak for us all in his investigations into the collective remembrance of time and change.”

All of it compelling.

There is one previously unpublished essay on Sigmund Freud and Mailer's iconic "The White Negro" as well as reviews of "American Psycho" and "The Corrections" and prognostications on Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. Topics range from artistic freedom to democracy and investigate figures as diverse as Jean Paul Sartre and Huckleberry Finn.

Jonathan Lethem wrote in the introduction to Sipiora’s book: “It’s not merely how the essays gain energy from the theatricality of the novelist turning almost in irritation from his main task – will her ever be allowed to reel in that big fish? – but that where these essays explode most into greatness is in their capacities for portraiture, scene-making, fictional conjecture, passages of free indirect style worthy of any Flauberian master.”

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563