Unlike other literary figures, Mailer was not prone to elite sensibilities in his private or public life. He was not a pragmatist nor an opportunist, nor was he politically correct—ever—which meant he was both honest and resented. He didn’t edit himself; he didn’t try to present himself in ways other than the way he felt at that time. I don’t think that he ever got away from the reputation that attached to him when he was very successful and very famous at a young age, where rage was the dominant characteristic, but he cared a lot about writing and he was most approachable to writers.

In the half century of living in New York, I’ve known a lot of famous writers, and I didn’t particularly like any of them. But I liked Mailer. I liked Mailer. So many of the others had elite sensibilities, they were pains in the ass. I liked Vonnegut, too. He was one of the sweet people. Mailer was never a sweet person. But I liked that he never took himself so seriously that he was blocked from others. There was never a door to Mailer’s life. There was never a threshold you had to climb up to and approach him deferentially. He was a very available guy. Sometimes his major mistakes were being too available to the wrong people, as in the Jack Abbott case. How many writers would reach out to this writer in prison, would actually pull them out of jail? The result, we know too well, was another murder. Mailer was the guy who would do something like that, and think second what the results would be.

Mailer was a chance taker. And that’s not to be held against him: he was a great chance taker. He mixed with some of the wrong kind, and he was the wrong kind to many people. I never met a writer who I felt was more human and accepting of writers and the failures of writers and the failures of nature, and who so personified them, too, the good and the bad. He had a human quality that was there to be reached if you gave him a chance.

I came to New York in the mid-50s and I got my first job at The New York Times as a sports feature writer. I wrote about prizefighters. That’s how I met Mailer. That’s how I met Budd Schulberg, who hung around the fights, and later George Plimpton. So I knew him first that way, and then I knew him later on as a writer, and still later, in the 1980s, through PEN, when he was the President and I was one of the Vice-Presidents. Mailer changed PEN. He went public with PEN, put it on the map, took it out of the tea party level and made it into a national and international organization. He could move with the rich and the poor, and he could get rich people to put money into PEN so it could do things like host an International PEN Congress in New York. He elevated this organization from a very rigid and posturing organization of pretentious poets and writers into an organization of scope, of large feelings: because he had large feelings, big feelings, big ideas, he made PEN into a big idea place. He really did it. He got very little credit for it, but he was the seminal president of this place.