The Mailer Review/Volume 10, 2016/Reflections

From Project Mailer
« The Mailer ReviewVolume 10 Number 1 • 2016 • 10th Anniversary Issue »

This year, our tenth anniversary, marks a dramatic milestone in the history of the Review. When the birthing process of the Review began in 2006, we knew from general experience that most scholarly journals have relatively short lifespans. Yet we were enthusiastically optimistic that the Review would stay in operation for several years, even though academic publications are faced with so many challenges. However, we did not anticipate a future of ten volumes (nearly 5,000 pages) that is still surging forward with unabated enthusiasm, energy, and momentum.

All of us on the staff of the Review are very proud of what has been achieved and, more important, what is yet to come. We continue to strive to be a contributing record nurturing the legacy of the life and work of Norman Mailer. So many individuals have shared the work of putting together the Review each year and the masthead from year to year reflects the names and exceptional work of these superb contributors, nearly all of whom are volunteers. And there are others who have most generously supported the Review over the years with rigorous scholarship, cultural and biographical commentary. Our relationship with The Norman Mailer Society is a symbiotic one in so many ways that enrich the Society and the Review. Donors to the Society have been extremely generous over the years and they sustain our existence. My deep appreciation goes to everyone who has made the Society and our journal what they have become and what they will continue to become in the future.

As we savor and celebrate this year’s achievement, there is someone no longer with us who was, and is, an important voice in Mailer Studies and in the evolution of the Review. I refer to my dear friend and colleague, Professor Donald Kaufmann who, sadly, passed away in October of 2015.

Donald Kaufmann was born in Pittsburgh in 1927, a talented writer and musician (piano), even at a young age. Kaufman received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh and made his way to the University of Iowa, where he specialized in American literature and completed his dissertation on Norman Mailer in 1965. This project, The Countdown became one of the first scholarly books published on Mailer (Southern Illinois University Press, 1968). Dr. Kaufmann went on to write another book on the cultural and literary influences of Mailer: Norman Mailer: Legacy and Literary Americana (Scholars’ Press, 2014). For more than sixty years, Dr. Kaufmann maintained his passionate interest in the life and work of Mailer, publishing articles on Mailer and speaking publicly about Mailer’s achievements.

Dr. Kaufman was much more than a Norman Mailer scholar and full-throated enthusiast. In the mid-1960s, Kaufmann was instrumental in bringing Mailer to the University of Alaska. It was a richly rewarding experience for many people, including Mailer himself. Kaufmann recounts Mailer’s visit in “Norman Mailer in ‘God’s Attic’,” published in the Review (Vol. 4, 2010). He visited Mailer in Maine and Provincetown and remained in touch with him over many decades and participated in the annual meetings of the Society, especially those held in Provincetown, where Mailer lived and routinely hosted a Saturday night party at his home for Society members. Moments like these were deeply cherished by Kaufmann, who sought every opportunity to converse with his dear friend. I observed them together and it was apparent that Mailer and Kaufman had deep affection and respect for one another, going back to their days in Alaska.

Dr. Kaufmann was also a creative writer and published two novels, including Bramble (Lulu, 2013), a riveting, tale chronicling the dizzying path of a twentieth-century picaro wandering across the nation and into the heavens seeking adventure. This first novel, which Mailer read in draft form and praised, is rich in irony and absurdity and offers an extended metaphor for the inexplicable, surreal nature of life viewed by a character with sharp intelligence and keen perception. Kaufmann’s second novel, O Brave New Eve (published posthumously in 2016) is an intricately complex and stimulating tale of human genetics, and it fits within the genre of genetic “fantasy” in recounting the scientific theory and practice(s) of gynecologist Dr. Victor and heroine Sophie. I believe that Kaufmann will be remembered for both his scholarly work and his non-traditional fiction. His writing and research were clearly labors of love and his enthusiasm never slowed down — even at the end.

Donald Kaufmann was a dear friend of mine for thirty-one years and we shared many interests beyond a love for teaching, research, and writing. Our conversations often continued, in full spirit, until the wee hours of the night, and I learned a great deal about life and literature from him. Kaufman had much of the character Bramble in him, and Kaufman’s quixotic journey through life, in various stages, reflected the erudite bohemian traveler, never satisfied and always thirsting for enticing new knowledge and new adventures. Don Kaufmann was an unflagging friend and mentor to me and his energy for life was exceptionally contagious. My heart is greatly saddened and I miss him — dearly and daily.

Phillip Sipiora