Thomas Mallon (born November 2, 1951) is an American novelist, essayist, and critic. His novels are renowned for their attention to historical detail and context and for the author’s crisp wit and interest in the “bystanders” to larger historical events. He is the author of eight books of fiction, including Henry and Clara, Two Moons, Dewey Defeats Truman, Aurora 7, Bandbox, Fellow Travelers, and most recently Watergate. He has also published nonfiction on plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two volumes of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact).
He is a former literary editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly, where he wrote the "Doubting Thomas" column in the 1990s, and has contributed frequently to The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar, and other periodicals. He was appointed a member of the National Council on the Humanities in 2002 and served as Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2005-2006.
His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, the National Book Critics Circle citation for reviewing, and the Vursell prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for distinguished prose style. He was elected as a new member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.
Early life and education
Thomas Vincent Mallon was born in Glen Cove, New York and grew up in Stewart Manor, N.Y., on Long Island. His father, Arthur Mallon, was a salesman and his mother, Caroline, kept the home. Mallon graduated from Sewanhaka High School in 1969. He has often said that he had “the kind of happy childhood that is so damaging to a writer.”
Mallon went on to study English at Brown University, where he wrote his undergraduate honors thesis on American author Mary McCarthy. He credits McCarthy, with whom he later became friends, as the most enduring influence on his career as a writer.
Mallon earned a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he wrote his dissertation on the English WWI poet Edmund Blunden. On sabbatical from Vassar College in 1982-1983, Mallon spent a year as a visiting scholar at St. Edmund’s House (later College) at Cambridge University. It was here that he drafted most of A Book of One’s Own, a work of nonfiction about diarists and diary-writing. The book’s rather unexpected success earned Mallon tenure at Vassar College, where he taught English from 1979-1991.
Thomas Mallon’s writing style is characterized by charm, wit, and a meticulous attention to detail and character development. His nonfiction often explores “fringe” genres—diaries, letters, plagiarism—just as his fiction frequently tells the stories of characters “on the fringes of big events.”
A Book of One’s Own, a sort of guide to the great diaries of literature, was published in 1984 and gave Mallon his first dose of critical acclaim. Richard Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times (28 November 1984) called the book “an engaging meditation on the varied and irrepressible spirit of life that insists on preserving itself on paper.” In A Book of One’s Own, Mallon covers a wide range of diarists from Samuel Pepys to Anais Nin. He explained his enthusiasm for the genre by saying: “Writing books is too good an idea to be left to authors.” The success of A Book of One’s Own won Mallon a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1986.
Mallon then began writing fiction, a genre in which he’d informally dabbled throughout childhood and young adulthood. Mallon published his first novel, Arts and Sciences, in 1988 about Arthur Dunne, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate student in English. Soon after its publication, in 1989, Mallon released a second nonfiction book called Stolen Words: Forays Into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism.
Henry and Clara, published in 1994, stamped Mallon as a writer of historical fiction from that point forward. The novel traces the lives of Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the young couple who accompanied Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. A story of star-crossed lovers intermingles with personal and political tragedies and spans the couple’s first meeting in childhood to their eventual derangement. Mallon’s writing career took a dramatic turn when John Updike praised Henry and Clara in The New Yorker, calling Mallon “one of the most interesting American novelists at work.”
Historical fiction, Mallon declares in interviews, is the genre in which he is most interested as a writer. “I think the main thing that has led me to write historical fiction is that it is a relief from the self,” he explains. After the publication of Henry and Clara, Mallon went on to write five more works of historical fiction, including his most recent novel and his fifteenth book, Watergate. American political history has been perhaps his main subject and interest; in 1994, he was the ghostwriter of former Vice President Dan Quayle’s memoir, Standing Firm.
Watergate, a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, is a colorful retelling of the Watergate scandal from the perspective of seven characters, some familiar to the public memory, such as Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, and some brought to light from the sidelines of the scandal, such as Fred LaRue.
Awards and nominations
- Finalist, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. (For Watergate, 2013.)
- Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2012.
- American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for prose style. $10,000. Conferred May 2011.
- Fellow Travelers a finalist for 2007 Lambda Literary Award.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for Distinguished Criticism, 2002.
- Guggenheim Fellowship, 2000-2001.
- National Book Critics Circle Award (Nona Balakian Citation) for Excellence in Reviewing, 1998.
- Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction, 1998, for Dewey Defeats Truman.
- Ingram Merrill Award (for outstanding work as a writer), 1994.
- Rockefeller Fellowship,1986-87.
- Phi Beta Kappa, 1972.
- Mallon, Thomas (1983). Edmund Blunden. Twayne. ISBN 0805768297.
- — (1984). A book of one's own : people and their diaries. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899192424.
- — (1989). Stolen words : forays into the origins and ravages of plagiarism. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899193935.
- — (1993). Rockets and rodeos and other American spectacles. Diane Publishing Co. ISBN 0788152114.
- — (2001). In fact : essays on writers and writing. Pantheon. ISBN 0375409165.
- — (2002). Mrs. Paine's Garage and the murder of John F. Kennedy. Pantheon. ISBN 0375421173.
- — (2009). Yours ever : people and their letters. Pantheon. ISBN 9780679444268.
- Mallon, Thomas (1988). Arts and Sciences : a Seventies seduction. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899194206.
- — (1991). Aurora 7. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899199380.
- — (1994). Henry and Clara. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 039559071X.
- — (1997). Dewey defeats Truman. Pantheon. ISBN 0679444254.
- — (2000). Two moons. Pantheon. ISBN 0375400257.
- — (2004). Bandbox. Pantheon. ISBN 0375421165.
- — (2007). Fellow travelers. Pantheon. ISBN 0375423486.
- — (2012). Watergate : a novel. Pantheon. ISBN 0307378721.
Essays and reporting
- Mallon, Thomas (January 18, 2002). "Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy". Wall Street Journal.
- — (February 4, 2013). "Wag the dog : the making of Richard Nixon". The Critics. A Critic at Large. The New Yorker 88 (46): 68–74. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
Critical studies and reviews
- Bliven, Naomi (January 21, 1985). "Quiddities". The New Yorker 60 (49): 92–93. Review of A Book of One's Own.
- Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (December 7, 1989). "Word thieves and what compels them". The New York Times. Review of Stolen words.
- Gingher, Marianne (February 17, 1991). "Through space and time". The Washington Post. Review of Aurora 7.
- Goodwin, Stephen (February 24, 1993). "Thomas Mallon’s American Pie". USA Today: 20. Review of Rockets and rodeos and other American spectacles.
- Updike, John (September 5, 1994). "Excellent humbug". The New Yorker 70: 102–105. Review of Henry and Clara.
- Wood, James (December 31, 1996). "Those little-town blues". Slate. Review of Dewey defeats Truman.
- Mitgang, Herbert (January 26, 1997). "Master of detail". Chicago Tribune. Review of Dewey defeats Truman.
- Weber, Katharine (April 9, 2000). "Starry-eyed". The Washington Post. Review of Two Moons.
- Pritchard, William H. (January 14, 2001). "The company he keeps". New York Times Book Review: 13. Review of In fact : essays on writers and writing.
- Upchurch, Michael (January 20, 2002). "How history happens". Chicago Tribune. Review of Mrs. Paine's Garage and the murder of John F. Kennedy.
- Gibbons, Kaye (February 8, 2004). "The ‘20s roar again with rollicking energy". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Review of Bandbox.
- Smith, Wendy (April 29, 2007). "Opportunism knocks". Los Angeles Times Book Review. Review of Fellow Travelers.
- Schiff, Stacy (November 29, 2009). "Please Mr. Postman". New York Times Book Review: 13. Review of Yours Ever.
- Alabanese, Andrew Richard (November 30, 2009). "Man of letters". Publishers Weekly: 22–24.
- Maslin, Janet (February 15, 2012). "Nixon and friends, stalked with literary license : ‘Watergate,’ a novel by Thomas Mallon". Books of the Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
- Daly, Gay (May 20, 1985). "In his own words". People.
- Coffey, Michael (January 20, 1997). "Thomas Mallon : picturing history and seeing stars". Publishers Weekly: 380–381.
- McGregor, Michael (December 2003). "An interview with novelist and critic Thomas Mallon". The Writer’s Chronicle: 16–23.
- Morton, Paul (August 2007). "An interview with Thomas Mallon". Bookslut. Retrieved 2015-01-30.
- Haskell, Arlo (February 9, 2008). "Plausible presence : a conversation with Thomas Mallon". Littoral : the blog of the Key West Literary Seminar. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
- Kauffman, Bill (June 2009). "Moonstruck : a chat with novelist Thomas Mallon". The American Enterprise: 41–43.
- "Thomas Mallon Elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences." GW Today (April 19, 2012) Retrieved 2012-06-08
- Michael McGregor, “Thomas Mallon,” Twenty-First-Century American Novelists, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 350. Gale Cengage Learning.
- André Bernard, “An Interview with Thomas Mallon,” Five Points, vol. XIII (January 2009): 97-114.
- André Bernard, “An Interview with Thomas Mallon,” Five Points, vol. XIII (January 2009): 97-114.
- Thomas Mallon, “Introduction,” A Book of One’s Own. Ticknor and Fields (1984).
- Thomas Mallon. Henry and Clara. Picador: August 15, 1995.
- John Updike, “Excellent Humbug,” New Yorker, 70 (5 September 1994): 102-105.
- Michael Coffey, “Thomas Mallon: Picturing History and Seeing Stars,” Publishers Weekly (January 20, 1997): 380-381.
- Joe Queenan, "Ghosts in the Machine," New York Times (20 March 2005). Retrieved 2009-11-16.
- Ron Charles, (6 March 2012). “'Watergate' vies for hometown prize.” The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2013/03/06/washington-writer-thomas-mallon-among-finalists-for-penfaulkner-award/
- Janet Maslin. (15 February 2012). “Nixon and Friends, Stalked With Literary License,‘Watergate,’ a novel by Thomas Mallon.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/books/watergate-a-novel-by-thomas-mallon.html
- Sayers, Valerie (21 August 1994). "Sunday Book Review of Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon". NY Times.
- Check if this is actually a review of Mallon's book.
- Thomas Mallon's Website
- Mostly Fiction Review of Bandbox