Tribute to Norman Mailer
I had to deal with all of the myths surrounding Norman when I became his friend and colleague. There was the true Norman and the public Norman. I really only knew the true Norman—thank God—because there was a huge difference between the two.
I knew the true Norman for over forty years. I first met him in the l960s at the Actors Studio where we served on its board and attended sessions religiously. Norman adored theater. He both wrote plays and acted in them. He especially loved the Playwrights/Directors Unit, where he would frequently argue with the likes of Elia Kazan. Later, we worked together at PEN, after Norman became its president in l986. I served as a vice president, and it was a very exciting time. Norman was the most innovative president the organization ever had, though he never got proper credit for it. He brought PEN kicking and screaming into the 21st century with his International Writers’ Conference. He even persuaded the hotels to give writers a special rate. He had endless ideas for promoting PEN’s core programs, like Freedom to Write, and he persuaded rich and social people to support PEN. He was harshly and unfairly criticized for this, but it didn’t faze him. He just barrelhoused ahead.
Norman didn’t understand limitations. He was fascinated by courage and brutality, and he wasn’t afraid to speak or write about either subject. He pushed everybody to do their best. At heart, he was a generous, gracious soul and a loyal friend. I feel lucky to have known him, and I will miss his spirit and his prescience about our culture. His favorite word was ‘improvise.’