J. Michael Lennon

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J. Michael Lennon
J. Michael Lennon.jpg
Born (1942-06-13) June 13, 1942 (age 74)
Fall River, Massachusetts
Occupation Professor
Nationality American
Alma mater Stonehill College
Genre editor; biographer
Spouse Donna Pedro Lennon

J. Michael Lennon is Emeritus Professor of English at Wilkes University and the late Norman Mailer’s archivist and authorized biographer. He published Mailer's official biography Norman Mailer: A Double Life in 2013. He edited Mailer's selected letters, which were published by Random House in 2014.

Early life[edit]

Lennon, Irish-American on both sides, grew up in Massachusetts. He graduated from Stonehill College, a Catholic school south of Boston, in 1963 and became a U.S. Navy officer during the Vietnam War. After sea duty on the USS Uvalde for 30 months, he taught military law and history at Naval O.C.S. Newport in the late 1960s. He served five years on active duty (1964-1968). He earned his M.A. (1969) and Ph.D. (1975) in English at the University of Rhode Island, where he first became interested in Norman Mailer in the classes of Dr. Nancy Potter, who directed his thesis on Mailer.[1]

Lennon and Mailer[edit]

Lennon wrote a letter of encouragement to Mailer after watching Gore Vidal and Mailer get into a raucous debate on the Dick Cavett Show in January 1971.[2] Mailer answered his letter and a long correspondence began.[1] In 1972, Lennon met Mailer in Illinois when the latter was on a college speaking tour for his new book, St. George and the Godfather (1972).[1] For the next decade, Lennon, his wife and children visited Mailer in Provincetown and Maine when returning to Newport in the summertime.[1] He proposed a collection of Mailer’s essays and interviews to Mailer, and the idea grew into Mailer’s 1982 collection, Pieces and Pontifications, which Lennon edited.[3] When Lennon gave Mailer a copy of the new collection Critical Essays on Norman Mailer at a fall 1986 dinner at Elaine’s in NYC, Mailer asked him to serve as one of his literary executors.[4] Mailer was comfortable with those of Irish extraction,[5] and they hit it off.

In 1988, Lennon edited Conversations with Norman Mailer, a collection of 34 of his interviews. It became a key source for those writing about Mailer, and remains in print. By this time, Mailer had begun sharing drafts of his books with Lennon, who began assembling a collection of his books, his uncollected reviews, essays, poems and letters to the editor, and everything in print he could find about Mailer. Lennon and his wife Donna and their sons became friendly with Mailer’s family, including all nine children, and his sister Barbara Wasserman and her son Peter Alson, and enjoyed regular visits in the summers.

At Lennon's suggestion, in 1994 the Mailer papers, previously housed in Manhattan, were moved to a large professional storage facility in Pennsylvania. This arrangement made it more convenient for Lennon and Mailer's current biographer and archivist Robert F. Lucid to have access. Lennon and his wife began to re-organize the papers, sifting and sorting through 500 cubic feet of paper. This led to work on a comprehensive annotated listing of Mailer’s writings, and those about him. Norman Mailer: Works and Days, compiled by the Lennons, was published in 2000, with a preface from Mailer, and is the standard Mailer bibliography. Three years earlier, Lennon and Lucid assisted Mailer in putting together a mammoth collection of his writings, The Time of Our Time.

In 2000, Lennon began the task of reading and selecting Mailer’s letters. It took him almost three years to read all 50,000 letters (25 million words), and he remains the only person, save Mailer, who has read them all. In 1997, the Lennons purchased a condo in Provincetown a short walk from the Mailer house, and spent weekends and summers there. Lennon began to interview Mailer regularly. In 2003, a collection of Mailer’s essays and insights on writing, The Spooky Art, was published, edited by Lennon.

When Lucid died unexpectedly in December 2006, Mailer asked Lennon to take over the writing of the authorized biography. A year later Mailer died. Lennon, Lawrence Schiller and Mailer’s widow, Norris Church Mailer, produced the memorial to Mailer at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2008.

In 2008, Lennon signed a contract with Simon and Schuster for the biography. He also entered into an agreement with the Mailer Estate granting him full access to the Mailer letters and unpublished manuscripts (Mailer’s papers were sold to the University of TexasHarry Ransom Center in 2005,[6] and Lennon served as a consultant during the cataloging process). Lennon and his wife moved full-time to their condo in Provincetown, where Mailer had begun writing his final novel, The Castle in the Forest (2007), in the Lennon condo in fall of 2000.

Lennon had kept extended notes on Mailer’s table talk, and also interviewed him on many aspects of his public and private life. Lennon’s unpublished “Mailer Log,” his record of Mailer’s last three years, runs to 150,000 words. The summer before Mailer died, he and Lennon completed work on a series of interviews on Mailer’s theological ideas and theories. The ten long discussions were published as On God: An Uncommon Conversation just days before Mailer died. Over the next four years Lennon interviewed 86 people, including his ex-wives, children, cousins, sister, nephew, and many close personal and literary friends, including Don DeLillo, Gay Talese, Robert Silvers, Barbara Probst Solomon, David Ebershoff, Ivan Fisher, Eileen Fredrikson, Lois Wilson, Carol Holmes, Tina Brown, Harry Evans, James Toback, Nan Talese, Dotson Rader, Doris and Dick Goodwin, William Kennedy, Richard Stratton, Mickey Knox, and Lawrence Schiller, Mailer’s most important collaborator. Schiller gave Lennon access to all of his interviews with Lawrence Grobel dealing with Mailer, and assisted in many ways. Schiller also enlisted Lennon to abridge and edit four new editions of Mailer books, including The Fight, Marilyn, and Of a Fire on the Moon for Taschen books. The Lennons made several month-long visits to the Mailer archives in Texas, in 2008 and 2009, and in the fall of 2009, he began writing, breaking his daily routine only to conduct interviews. At the end of October 2012, after six years of writing and research, he submitted the biography to Simon and Schuster.

Academic Life[edit]

Lennon got his first teaching job at the University of Illinois at Springfield in 1972. Lennon moved into academic administration in the late 1970s, and became publisher of Illinois Issues magazine, and the director of what is now WUIS-FM. These and other units (a public TV station and small press later on) were eventually combined into the University’s Institute of Public Affairs, and he became its first executive director in 1988. He continued to teach and assisted University of Pennsylvania professor, Robert F. Lucid, then Mailer’s authorized biographer and archivist. In 1992, Lennon was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA. While at Wilkes, Lennon also served as co-director of the Wilkes University low-residency MA/MFA in Creative Writing, a program which he founded in 2004, along with current Program Director Bonnie Culver. In 2000 after nine years on the job, Lennon stepped down from the V.P. position. He moved to the English Department which he chaired for two years.[3] He is Emeritus Vice President for Academic Affairs and Emeritus Professor of English at Wilkes University. He continues to teach in the Wilkes M.F.A. Program and The Mailer Colony, and serves on the advisory boards of both. He served from 2005-2007 as a literary consultant at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas-Austin, where he assisted in the cataloging of Mailer’s papers, and was a Fellow there in 2009.[7]

Writing career[edit]

Lennon has written/edited several books about Norman Mailer, including Norman Mailer: A Double Life (2013), the official biography published by Simon and Schuster. He has selected and edited a set of Mailer's letters, which were published in 2014 by Random House.[8]

Norman Mailer: Works and Days (2000) received a Choice Magazine award for "outstanding scholarly title" in 2001.[7] Books he has edited include Critical Essays on Norman Mailer (1986), Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988), The James Jones Reader (1991, with James Giles), The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing (2003), and Norman Mailer’s Letters on An American Dream, 1963-69 (2004). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Mailer Review, James Jones Literary Society Journal, Playboy, Creative Nonfiction, New York, Modern Fiction Studies, Modern Language Studies, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative, and The Journal of Modern Literature, among others. He co-authored with Mailer On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007). Most recently, he edited Moonfire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11 (Taschen 2009), an abridged version of Mailer’s 1971 narrative, Of a Fire on the Moon, with hundreds of NASA photographs; and Norman Mailer/Bert Stern: Marilyn Monroe (Taschen 2011).

Lennon also wrote about James Jones and edited (with James Giles) a collection of Jones’ war writings, The James Jones Reader in 1991. He also co-produced (with Jeffrey Davis) a 1985 PBS documentary on Jones, James Jones: From Reveille to Taps, in which Mailer gave a key interview. With George Plimpton, Lennon assembled a 1987 piece on Jones for the PARIS REVIEW titled “Glimpses: James Jones, 1921-1977,” drawn from the documentary.


Lennon helped found and has served as president of both The Norman Mailer Society and The James Jones Literary Society and serves on the boards of both organizations. He is currently president for the former. He is also the Chair of the Editorial Board of The Mailer Review and serves on the Executive Board of the Norman Mailer Center.

Personal life[edit]

Lennon has been married to Donna Pedro Lennon, a Newporter who also attended the University of Rhode Island,[1] since October 15, 1966. They are the parents of three sons, Stephen (1967), Joseph (1968) and James (1969), and four grandchildren and live in Westport, Massachusetts.

Published work[edit]


  • Norman Mailer: A Double Life (2013)
  • Norman Mailer: Works and Days (2000)


  • On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007), with Norman Mailer


  • "Selected Letters of Norman Mailer" (2014), New York, NY, USA: Random House.[8]
  • Marilyn Monroe (2011), with Norman Mailer and Bert Stern
  • Moonfire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11 (2009)
  • Norman Mailer’s Letters on An American Dream, 1963-69 (2004)
  • The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing (2003)
  • The James Jones Reader (1991), with James Giles
  • Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988)
  • Critical Essays on Norman Mailer (1986)

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e LaRoche, Tony (2013), "Mailer Biography Grew Out of 40-Year Acquaintance with Westport, Mass., Author," Providence Journal (online), 10 November, see [1], accessed 8 September 2015.
  2. ^ Anderson, L.V. (2012), "Brow Beat: Watch Gore Vidal’s Famous Altercation With Norman Mailer on The Dick Cavett Show," Slate (online), 1 August, see [2], accessed 8 September 2015. Quote: "Gore Vidal, who died yesterday at the age of 86, will be remembered by most for the crackling prose of his novels, plays, and essays. But he will also be remembered by television history buffs for the 1971 Dick Cavett Show appearance in which Vidal and rival novelist Norman Mailer engaged in a quarrel so heated and uncomfortable that it puts the staged squabbles of modern-day reality shows to shame."
  3. ^ a b J. Michael Lennon's extended biography from his web site.
  4. ^ Brinkley, Douglas (2005), "Books: Mailer's Miscellany," The New York Times (online), 25 April, see [3], accessed 8 September 2015.
  5. ^ Kennedy, "The Essential Mailer," pp. 332f.
  6. ^ "2005 press release". Hrc.utexas.edu. 2005-04-25. Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  7. ^ a b Wilkes University (2015), "Creative Writing – M.A./ M.F.A.: J. Michael Lennon," Wilkes Academics (online), see [4], accessed 8 September 2015.
  8. ^ a b Winters, John (2014), "Sincerely, Norman: Collection Of Mailer's Letters Shines New Light Into This Famous Life," The Artery (online), 9 December, see [5], accessed 8 September 2015.


  1. Kennedy, Eugene (2008), "The Essential Mailer", in Lennon, J. Michael, Conversations with Norman Mailer, Literary conversations series, Jackson, MS, USA: University Press of Mississippi, pp. 330–336, ISBN 0878053522, ISSN 1555-7065, retrieved 8 September 2015. Reprinted by permission of the author, from Sunday: The Chicago Tribune Magazine, 9 September 1984, pp. 23ff, 28f. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mericle, Julia (2015), "Wilkes graduate creative writing program marks 10th anniversary," Citizens Voice (online), 18 June, see [6], accessed 8 September 2015.
  • Winters, John (2014), "Sincerely, Norman: Collection Of Mailer's Letters Shines New Light Into This Famous Life," The Artery (online), 9 December, see [7], accessed 8 September 2015.
  • O’Hagan, Andrew (2013), "The Reviewer’s Song: 'Norman Mailer: A Double Life' by J. Michael Lennon," London Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 21 (7 November), pp. 3–7, see [8], accessed 8 September 2015. Article opening: "Let me issue a warning. This is not a review. And it isn’t a memoir either: it’s a memoir-as-review, or perhaps an autobiographical review, or…"
  • French, Philip (2013), "Review: Norman Mailer: A Double Life by J. Michael Lennon," The Guardian (online), 2 December, see [9], accessed 8 September 2015. Article subtitle: "Lover, fighter, saint and sinner – a fascinating biography skilfully traces the contradictions that defined Norman Mailer."
  • Elliott, Okla (2013), "Review: Norman Mailer: A Double Life by J. Michael Lennon," The Harvard Review (online), 10 December, see [10], accessed 8 September 2015. Article closing: "Not only is … A Double Life enlightening, lively, and a pleasure to read, it is almost certain to become the standard Mailer biography."
  • LaRoche, Tony (2013), "Mailer Biography Grew Out of 40-Year Acquaintance with Westport, Mass., Author," Providence Journal (online), 10 November, see [11], accessed 8 September 2015. Article opening: "When J. Michael Lennon was a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island in the early 1970s, he did something unusual for someone writing a dissertation about a famous writer… he wrote about a live author — Norman Mailer."

External links[edit]