A Tribute to Norman Mailer

Author Norman Mailer died Saturday from acute renal failure. He was 84. In remembrance, NPR's Scott Simon reads from Mailer's Executioner's Song.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We want to end this hour with Norman Mailer who died this morning at the age of 84. His life was so full, fierce and controversial to many people who knew his name may never have read him. And Norman Mailer wrote 40 books, novels, journalism and forms that mix the two.

He changed his familiar florid, classical prose style to write "The Executioner's Song" which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1980. He told the story of convicted killer Gary Gilmore who wanted to be executed for the murders he committed. In his dark, sparse-style that seemed to match the parched landscape of Utah, some of his most moving sections were about Gary Gilmore's girlfriend Nicole. We read from a section called The House in Spanish Fork.

(Reading) Just before the time her mother and father split up, Nicole found a little house in Spanish Fork and it looked like a change for the better. She wanted to live alone and the house made it easier. It was very small, about 10 miles from Provo, in a quiet street at the start of the foothills. Her house looked as funky as a drawing in a fairy tale. It was kind of a pale lavender stucco on the outside with Hershey-brown window trim, and inside: just a living room, bedroom, kitchen and a bathroom. The roof beam curved in the middle and the front door was practically on the sidewalk. That's how long ago it had been built.

In the backyard was a groovy, old apple tree with a couple of rusty wires to hold the branches together. She loved it. The tree looked like one of those stray mutts that doesn't get any attention and doesn't care. It's still beautiful. The house was better than a man. Nicole amazed herself; she hadn't slept with anyone for weeks - didn't want to. She just wanted to digest her life, her three marriages, her two kids, and more guys than she wanted to count. Then she met Gary.

(Soundbite of music)

Words written by Normal Mailer in his 1979 book "The Executioner's Song" which won the Pulitzer Prize the next year. Normal Mailer died this morning at the age of 84 of renal failure. He leaves nine children and more than 40 books that will be read for a long time to come.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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