Norman Mailer anthology picked up by 'anti-woke' publisher Skyhorse after Random House cancels book

Norman Mailer anthology picked up by 'anti-woke' publisher Skyhorse after Random House cancels book

Novelist Norman Mailer’s anthology is picked up by ‘anti-woke’ publisher Skyhorse: Random House denies canceling literary giant because of his White Negro essay

  • Random House reportedly dropped the project over objections to the title of the Mailer essay White Negro
  • John Buffalo Mailer, 43, said the family would prefer to work with Random House 
  • Random House denies canceling the project, claiming it was never under contract 
  • Mailer’s literary agent John Wylie, 74, said that there was ‘no issue’ but declined to explain why the publishing conglomerate had passed 
  • Skyhorse Publishing has put out books dropped by other houses, with authors like Allan Dershowitz, Michael Cohen and Robert Kennedy Jr
  • White Negro called for a rejection of Eisenhower era conformity in the U.S.
  • Random House continues to publish Mailer’s works and embarked on an effort to introduce him to younger readers in 2013 


Author Norman Mailer’s anthology will be published by small imprint Skyhorse – known for championing writers who have been turned down by woke publishing houses – after Random House denied canceling the collection, saying it never had a contract to run the essays.

The late literary lion’s longtime publisher was accused of scotching the anthology – scheduled to correspond with the author’s 100th birthday – because an underling at the publishing house had objected to the title of the essay White Negro, which Mailer wrote in 1957.

The megalithic publisher, which recently ran afoul of the Justice Department over anti-trust issues, denied that was the case.

‘It is factually incorrect that Random House canceled an upcoming book of essays by Norman Mailer. We did not have this collection under contract. Random House does continue to publish much of Norman Mailer’s backlist.’

Random House reportedly decided to scrap a new collection of Norman Mailer essays over objections to the 1957 essay ‘White Negro’. Mailer, who fought in World War II, would be 100 years old next January. Many of his viewpoints, though influential at the time, would be considered controversial today

Norman Mailer first published his essay 'White Negro' in 1957, in it he called for a rejection of the mainstream Eisenhower-era conformity

Norman Mailer first published his essay ‘White Negro’ in 1957, in it he called for a rejection of the mainstream Eisenhower-era conformity

Mailer's literary agent Andrew Wylie denied that the project had been canceled by Random House

Mailer’s literary agent Andrew Wylie denied that the project had been canceled by Random House

However, Mailer’s son said he would have preferred to work with his father’s usual publisher.

‘He had a fantastic relationship with Penguin Random House,’ John Buffalo Mailer told the New York Times. ‘We would have liked to have done this book with them.’

Mailer’s literary agent Andrew Wylie denied Random House pulled out of the project, but did not explain why the author’s usual publisher, which had launched a campaign to promote his work to younger readers a few years ago, would not be involved.

‘That’s not the issue at all,’ Wylie said. ‘There is no issue here.’

He said that Penguin Random House, as it is now called after a consolidation, would continue to promote Mailer’s other works.

Skyhorse, a small independent publishing house, has made a reputation lately of signing up writers that have been dropped by corporate publishers amid controversies.

The printer has published The Case Against Impeaching Trump by Alan Dershowitz and Disloyal, the anti-Donald Trump memoir by the then-president’s  former lawyer Michael Cohen. It also published an anti-vaxxer book by Robert Kennedy Jr entitled The Real Anthony Fauci.

Best-selling author Michael Wolff was the first to report that the Mailer centennial project was killed by Random House.

‘With slow-mo hammer-dropping predictability, Norman Mailer’s long-time publisher has recently informed the Mailer family that it has canceled plans to publish a collection of his political writings to mark the centennial of his birth in 2023, confirms the film producer Michael Mailer, the author’s oldest son,’ Wolff wrote.

Social media lit up with tweets that sought to refute Wolff’s claim that Random House had passed on the project because of the objections of a junior staffer.

‘The junior staffers I’ve spoken to at Penguin Random House laughed off the insinuation that any of them had the power to kill a book,’ Alex Shepard wrote in the New Republic.

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Best-selling author Michael Wolff, who broke the story, wrote that the essay was the 'model for much of the psycho-sexual-druggie literature of the 1960s'

Best-selling author Michael Wolff, who broke the story, wrote that the essay was the ‘model for much of the psycho-sexual-druggie literature of the 1960s’

But Wolff was undeterred and pointed out that the larger publisher would be preferred to the smaller independent house.

‘Does nobody possess any logic,’ he tweeted. ‘Obviously Random House killed the project. Obviously nobody goes to Skyhorse unless they are forced to. Indeed, they are now famous for publishing cancelled writers. God, what credulous beasts.’

Mailer biographer J. Michael Lennon was tapped to chose the Mailer works for the collection and editor David Ebershoff had been picked to edit it, Wolff wrote in The Ankler, a new online publication by celebrity editor Janice Min.

Neither Lennon nor Ebershoff responded to requests for comment.

According to Wolff, though, the publisher said that no final contract had been signed for the book and therefore it was not canceled.

‘You hardly have to look hard in Mailer’s work to find offenses against contemporary doctrine and respectability,’ Wolff wrote, calling the author’s White Negro ‘a psycho-sexual-druggie precursor and model for much of the psycho-sexual-druggie literature that became popular in the 1960s.’

Mailer’s essay, written on the cusp of the beatnik era in the U.S., calls for a rejection of conformity and calls for the ‘rebellious imperatives of the self’

The ‘white negro’ of the essay’s title is a 1950s era hipster who lives for immediate gratification, or as he calls it the ‘burning consciousness of the present.’

Mailer likened his new philosophy to what he saw as the lifestyle of black Americans.

Writer James Baldwin objected to the essay because he said it traded on stereotypes of black people as overly sexual and violent

Writer James Baldwin objected to the essay because he said it traded on stereotypes of black people as overly sexual and violent

The essay drew controversy even at the time from thinkers like writer James Baldwin for trading on stereotypes of black people as operating on base impulses of sex and violence.

Mailer, who was born Jan. 31, 1923, would have been 100 years old next year. He is considered an important literary and left-leaning political voice of post-World War II, but he often flirted with controversy and his opinions of masculinity and sexuality are at odds with current thinking.

He served in the Pacific in World War II, but saw little combat. His first book, The Naked and the Dead about his time in the Army, ranked number 51 on the Modern Library’s Top 100 English-language Novels of the 20th Century.

He went on to publish 11 best-selling books, including non-fiction like his account of the anti-war movement Armies of the Night, which one him a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book award.

He considered himself a cultural critic and public intellectual and wrote political essays published in mainstream publications like Esquire.

In 1955, he co-founded the left-leaning Village Voice, a weekly paper which still exists online today.

He also dabbled in filmmaking without much success.

Mailer was known to court controversy and was prone to violence. He once stabbed his wife Adele Morales, pictured here in happier times, with a penknife. She survived.

Mailer was known to court controversy and was prone to violence. He once stabbed his wife Adele Morales, pictured here in happier times, with a penknife. She survived.

Mailer was known for getting into fistfights and once headbutted Gore Vidal in the green room on Dick Cavett’s talk show. He also stabbed his wife Adele Morales with a penknife after she questioned his masculinity. The wound was nearly fatal, but she survived and he served three years probation for the crime.

In 1969, he ran for mayor of New York City with the slogan, ‘No more bullsh**’

Mailer told reporters at the time: ‘The difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m no good and I can prove it.’

Random House continues to publish Mailer’s work, including Why Are We in Vietnam?, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, and Deer Park.

In 2013, Random House embarked on a project to republish his works for a younger generation, beginning a collection of selected essays called ‘Mind of an Outlaw.’

‘Norman was an American original both on the page and in life,’ the president of the publishing house Gina Centrello said at the time. ‘It’s a wonderful opportunity to relaunch these books for a new generation.’

The cancelation of the Mailer project should be worrisome, Wolff argued, because Penguin Random House has such a huge piece of the publishing pie.

‘A lack of competition among gatekeepers leads to less choice and more limits and a narrowing of risk, taste, and sensibility, and, when the winds are harsh, greater shelter for the cowardly,’ he writes. ‘A world without Norman Mailer—this new intellectual nanny-state—surely harms the literary consumer.’

Penguin Random House was sued by the Justice Department in November to block its purchase of Simon & Schuster, a rival publishing house.

 ‘If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry,’ Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. ‘American authors and consumers will pay the price of this anticompetitive merger – lower advances for authors and ultimately fewer books and less variety for consumers.’

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Janon Fisher

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