Norman Mailer Room and Study Share a Literary Legacy

The Eugene S. Farley Library holds hidden literary treasures on the second floor — the Norman Mailer Room and the Mailer Study — that offer a glimpse of the author’s impact on 20th century American literature and commemorate the literary giant’s relationship with Wilkes University’s low-residency creative writing program.

Mailer’s creative work spanned novels, newsprint, magazine, stage and screen. He produced 39 books, including 11 novels, in addition to plays, screenplays and essays. Mailer was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 work The Armies of the Night and earned a second Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song, published in 1979. Mailer passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.

The original Norman Mailer Room was dedicated in 2000, and the relocated room and full collection of artifacts were rededicated in 2019. Photographs of the renowned author and a large portrait donated by his daughter Danielle mark the entrance to these rooms on the second floor of the library.

Visitors to the Norman Mailer Room can view Mailer’s personal dining room table, which once welcomed Sammy Davis, Jr., Milton Berle, Liza Minelli, Kurt Vonnegut and other creative friends of the family for 20 years. “I mean, the people who sat around that table. Everybody sat at that table,” said J. Michael Lennon, Wilkes professor emeritus, as well as Mailer’s authorized biographer and friend. Mailer’s many awards and recognitions, including his Pulitzer Prizes, medals from the American Academy of Arts, book award citations and letters decorate the room.

Multiple Pulitzer-Prize winning author Norman Mailer’s work desk, with all the tools that the writer used daily, is recreated in the Norman Mailer Room of the Eugene S. Farley Library.
The study offers a recreation of Mailer’s studio in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and displays the tools of the author’s trade. His work desk, lamp, pencils, dictionaries, thesauruses, pillows, manuscripts, signed editions, bookcases and memorabilia present an intimate glimpse into the private space where Mailer wrote half of his books.

Much of the Mailer collection, including his entire 4,000-volume library, was donated by Lawrence Schiller, founder of The Norman Mailer Center. Lennon and his wife, Donna, also donated a large collection of manuscripts. In total, Wilkes now has more documents, books and artifacts associated with Mailer than both Harvard University and the Provincetown Museum, and the vast collection trails only that of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s the second largest literary collection of Mailer documents in the world, and it’s at Wilkes,” said Lennon.

The staff of the library archives has spent more than two years cataloging 100 archival boxes full of papers, including original documents handwritten by Mailer and typed on his typewriter. The descriptions of items in the collection run 122 pages. Once complete, literary scholars everywhere will have access to this vast collection of Mailer literary history, including notes for his last novel, The Castle in the Forest.

Mailer has a long and storied connection to Wilkes. He visited campus four times and, in 1995, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Mailer was the founding chair of the advisory board for the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing. Co-founded by Lennon and Bonnie Culver, emerita associate professor of English, the creative writing program welcomed its first students in 2005 and has since graduated over 600 students. Now under the leadership of Director David Hicks, this year marks 20 years since the official announcement of the program.

Educational accessibility stands as the heart of Mailer’s legacy at Wilkes. He argued successfully for admitting those who loved to write but did not have a college degree, believing the diploma should not be a prerequisite. Entry into the program focuses heavily on an applicant’s writing samples. Workshop space is limited and admission is competitive. The program features two on-campus residencies and two online terms each year and offers master of arts and master of fine arts degrees in different genres: creative nonfiction, fiction, playwriting, poetry, publishing, screenwriting and spoken word.

Mailer established the Norris Church Mailer Scholarship, awarded annually to a Maslow Program student with demonstrated talent, need and a commitment to serve the writing community. It is given in honor of his late wife, also a writer and board member.

The Mailer Room and Study are symbolic of his impact on Wilkes, and a testament to his belief in the University and its students. When students and other visitors immerse themselves in his collections, his awards and his photographs, they may see their faces reflected in the glass, reminding them of all their creative possibilities.

“Mailer left a big footprint at Wilkes, and we honor his memory,” said Lennon.

For more on the Norman Mailer Room and Study, contact the library staff at 570-408-4250.

For more on the creative writing program, contact the department at 570-408-4527 or cwriting@wilkes.edu.