Virginia D. Mangrum, December 21, 1964

From Project Mailer
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
December 21, 1964

Dear Mrs. Mangrum,[1]

As I wrote to a Negro friend of mine just yesterday, I decided this year to lay down the White Man’s Burden and send out no Christmas cards. But of course it’s still agreeable to receive them. I’d held off from answering your last long letter because there was so much in it which was interesting and generous and large that I didn’t want to reply too stingily. At the same time I kept working on An American Dream, I really finished it off just yesterday. It’s a curious book. I worked the hell out of the last chapter and gave a lot to the others. Yet when you read the book you may not be able to detect the difference, for the structure is exactly the same. But nearly every sentence was worked on nearly every which way, sometimes leaving it alone, or going back to leaving them alone, sometimes changing a preposition, sometimes cutting a phrase or adding one, but I felt more like a musician than a writer, as if I had a very good kettle drum which was devilish to tune. I think I’m guilty of having used this image in several letters before, and if I were a Catholic I would now cross myself against the possibility that I used exactly the same image in my last letter to you. But my memory tells me that I did not, and so it might have been wiser to have presented the metaphor as an original rather than a copy. However, caution comes upon me as I get older. I’d make a good general now, quartermaster, I fear, and not the Marines.

Listen, Mrs. M., I’m glad you mention your husband, because I’m certain he must be a marvelous man if he is both a Marine Corps General and husband to a wife as rich and varied in her parts as yourself, and still so very much in love with her husband. I must say, madam, they did not make generals like that in the Army. But in fact the name Mangrum means something to me, and I have such a pulverized memory, I am not quite sure what. Probably he’s one of the famous Marine Corps generals and I’m just an ass not to know the campaign and the battle. At any rate, famous, marvelous, or more modest than that. He must be okay to meet, and I look forward to meeting him at any time when I could meet you. Do you ever come up to New York? If so, perhaps you would come over to Brooklyn for a drink. I’ve got the best view of New York of anyone who lives in the city, and I know my wife would enjoy meeting you. But listen, this is all in the future, I fear. At the present I’m looking forward to sending you a copy of An American Dream in about a month. Between us, I’m just a little tickled with the book, because no matter it’s larger merits or lack of them, I worked the surface of this book harder than anything I’ve ever written and so feel at last there’s a certain craftsmanship to something I’ve done. To me it purrs a little now. It’s a bitch of a book, at least I think so. If you don’t like it, or are a good bit disappointed, my god, I’ll respect you for saying so after reading all these fine words about me by me.

Since you were so nice as to send me a picture, let me send one back. The gentleman in the front is my son, Michael. Six months old at the time, now nine months, born on St. Patrick’s Day, Michael Burks Mailer.

Let me wish a Merry Christmas to your family,

Norman Mailer
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.


  1. Mrs. Mangrum was still another Mailer fan.