NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Norman Mailer, who died Saturday in New York at the age of 84, achieved his greatest fame through such novels as "The Naked and the Dead."
It's less recognized, though, that Mailer was a great journalist, too. As much as Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson or Truman Capote or anyone else, Mailer personified the spirit of the so-called New Journalism of the 1960s. His influence as a storyteller and literary stylist has been felt deeply by journalists ever since. Mailer elevated the practice of literary fiction into an art form -- and he did it better than any of his peers.
Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize on two occasions, for "The Armies of the Night" (1968), which also received the National Book Award, and "The Executioner's Song" (1979).
Charles McGrath wrote on the New York Times Web site on Saturday: "Along the way, he transformed American journalism by introducing to nonfiction writing some of the techniques of the novelist and by placing at the center of his reporting a brilliant, flawed and larger-than-life character who was none other than Norman Mailer himself."
"The Armies of the Night," probably Mailer's greatest work, has at its center the historic March on the Pentagon in October 1967. The book took place during the height of the Vietnam War-era protests. As well as being a deadline newspaper journalist, Mailer reports on all of the drama and significance of the moment.
Like a classic magazine writer, he includes all of the telling details that show why the event was so critical to the times.
Not surprisingly, in accordance with an event of such magnitude, Mailer happily placed himself at the point of the action. It was a funny, biting, clever piece of work -- just like the author himself.
By Jon Friedman