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Be grateful you never received a letter from Norman Mailer

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  February 7, 2013 09:09 AM

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Perhaps Norman Mailer was simply trying to impress Ernest Hemingway. In 1955 Mailer, 32, wrote hoping to get the legendary Hemingway's opinion of his new novel, The Deer Park. Letters of Note reprinted the brash letter last week on what would have been Mailer's 90th birthday. As you'll read, he took a rather, uh, unconventional approach to asking for a favor.


—because finally after all these
years I am deeply curious to know
what you think of this.

—but if you do not answer, or if you
answer with the kind of crap you
use to answer unprofessional writers,
sycophants, brown-nosers, etc., then
[f***] you, and I will never attempt
to communicate with you again.

—and since I suspect that you're even
more vain than I am, I might as well
warn you that there is a reference to
you on page 353 which you may or may
not like


Regrettably, we'll never know if Mailer's bravado did the trick: The letter came back 10 days later marked in Spanish, "Address Unknown—Return to Sender."

In that same post Letters of Note also reprints a similarly charming letter that Mailer wrote to Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, in 1965. Silvers wanted Mailer to review a biography of Hubert Humphrey; Mailer was angry about how his own work had been treated in the NYRB's pages. After explaining that he wouldn't take on the assignment, he closed, "negotiations with your Editorship are, by open measure, inching, tedious, and impoverished as spit."

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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