Random House stages poignant tribute to scribe

Norman Mailer was remembered as equal parts novelist, pugilist, activist and patriarch during a touching and lengthy memorial Wednesday at Carnegie Hall.

“There were so many lives and each of them so worth exploring,” noted Charlie Rose, the day’s emcee, who said he interviewed Mailer a dozen times.

In all, 28 notables and family members paid tribute with words or music to Mailer, who died last November at 84. Random House, his publisher for the last 24 years of his life, organized the memorial. Scheduled to speak at the late-afternoon event were Sean Penn, Tina Brown, Joan Didion and Mailer’s wife of 33 years, Norris Church Mailer.

Novelist William Kennedy, who was a film critic when he met Mailer in 1968, recalled the writer describing the essence of his 32 books, scores of articles, screenplays and plays.

“‘It is the great swindle that society is pulling on itself that there are two literary forms, fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction is fiction because you never get it right,'” Kennedy said.

Mailer’s nine children, many of whom have wound up working in the arts, painted a vivid group portrait. “It’s hard to rebel against your father when your father is Norman Mailer,” observed Kate Mailer, a writer and performer.

“He was the writer in opposition who stood up against power and reached for a handful himself,” said author Don DeLillo.

Laughs and sardonic witticisms were plentiful at the memorial, relieving the forlorn notes of grief still resonating six months after Mailer’s death. Gina Centrello, prexy and publisher of Random House, set the tone with an anecdote about an editing session during which she told Mailer his book could do without one sizable, digressive passage.

” ‘That would make it more of a page-turner,'” she remembered him saying. ” ‘But Gina, I hate page-turners.’ “

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