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Norman Mailer book to be released by Skyhorse

He realised
there was already an answer in some of the essays and other writing by his
father, including stark warnings about the fragility of democracy and the
threat of political violence. He spoke to J Michael Lennon, who wrote a
biography of Norman Mailer, and together they began planning a collection of
Mailer’s work on the subject.

That
collection, which includes previously unpublished writing from Mailer’s
archives and excerpts from letters, manuscripts and interviews, has been
acquired by Skyhorse, after Mailer’s longtime publisher, Random House, declined
to make an offer on the submission.

“He had a
fantastic relationship with Penguin Random House,” John Buffalo Mailer said.
“We would have liked to have done this book with them.”

Publishers
that have long-standing relationships with authors often get a first look at
their book proposals and manuscripts and are given the opportunity to make a
preemptive bid, though it isn’t unusual for authors and agents to take their
work elsewhere if the offer doesn’t materialise or meet their expectations.

The fate of
Mailer’s collection, however, generated a heated debate on social media this
week, after journalist Michael Wolff reported in the newsletter The Ankler that
Random House had cancelled its planned publication of the title because it
determined that Mailer — who was famously brash, physically violent,
misogynistic and pugnacious in attacking those who disagreed with him — had
become too controversial. Citing a Random House source, Wolff wrote that the
publisher was also swayed by “a junior staffer’s objection to the title of
Mailer’s 1957 essay, ‘The White Negro.’”

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The Mailer
estate was surprised by Wolff’s claims. “The reasons that were in that piece
were news to me,” John Buffalo Mailer said.

Though he
was disappointed by Random House’s decision, John Buffalo Mailer said he
doesn’t blame the company for passing on a single title and noted that it
continues to publish the bulk of his father’s work.

“Why did
Random House pass on this book? I think it was because this is the first
commercial book of Norman’s that’s going to come out in the era we’re living
in, and there’s going to be a lot of questions,” he said. “They didn’t feel
they were the right house to do this book right now.”

Mailer
added: “I don’t think they have any interest in trying to cancel Norman Mailer.
You can’t cancel Norman Mailer.”

A
spokeswoman for Random House said in a statement that it is “factually
incorrect that Random House cancelled an upcoming book of essays by Norman
Mailer,” adding that the book was never under contract and that Random House
continues to publish much of Mailer’s backlist.

The
literary agent Andrew Wylie, who represents the Mailer estate, wrote in an
email that there hadn’t been any falling out between the Mailer estate and his
longtime publisher. “There is no issue here. Random House is proud to publish
Norman Mailer, and intends to promote his work significantly for the
centennial, in tandem with the publication by Skyhorse of the anthology,” he
said. “The Mailer family and Random House are united in support of Norman’s
work.”

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Still, the
company’s decision unleashed yet another debate over “cancel culture” and
censorship. Some argued that publishers have become too fearful of provoking
controversy or becoming targets of critical social-media campaigns, and have
pulled back from publishing provocative or polarising authors.

Skyhorse,
an independent press, has become something of a last refuge for authors. In
recent years, it has scooped up titles that were abandoned by other houses,
including a memoir by Woody Allen, which Hachette dropped after its own workers
protested, and a biography of Philip Roth, which W.W. Norton pulled from circulation
after its author, Blake Bailey, was accused of sexual assault and misconduct.

In an
email, Skyhorse’s president and publisher, Tony Lyons, called Mailer “one of
the most dramatic, controversial and enduring writers of his generation” and
said the as-yet untitled book is scheduled for release next year.

A prolific
and combative writer who published around 40 books and was twice awarded the
Pulitzer Prize, Norman Mailer was married six times and was also famous for his
extraordinary ego. In 1960, at the end of a party announcing his plan to run
for mayor of New York City, he stabbed his second wife, Adele Mailer, in the
stomach and back with a penknife, seriously wounding her.

While
collections of Mailer’s writings have been released posthumously before, the
Mailer estate felt a new anthology about the need to protect democratic norms
would be especially timely, and it aimed to release the book in time for
Mailer’s centennial next year.

Lennon, the
author of Mailer’s 2013 biography, said that Mailer’s work addressing the
tenuous state of democracy was particularly relevant now, in the aftermath of
former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020
election and the violence that ensued.

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“Right now,
as the country is in the middle of a self examination over the events that
occurred a year ago in Washington, DC, it is an extremely appropriate time for
Norman Mailer’s voice to be heard,” he said. “It was exactly the kind of thing
that he feared.”

The
collection is one of several projects that the estate has planned. John Buffalo
Mailer is also working on a television series adapted from Lennon’s biography.

His father
would be in favour of the debate over his life and work, and excited about “the
reckoning going on right now,” he said.

“It is this
unique and fascinating opportunity to examine an incredible amount of prescient
literary work,” he said. “He’d be the first to say he’s not a perfect human
being, but for those of us who are fans of his work, it’s worth working through
the challenging parts of his life to reap the benefits of his work.”

© 2021 The
New York Times Company

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