Campus Buzz

A few rounds with a literary heavyweight: “John Barth? Oh, we’d hurt each other. A lot of roundhouse rights back and forth.” So said author Norman Mailer about the American modernist literary giant. The remark—in response to novelist Max Apple’s positing of some hypothetical bouts between Mailer and other famous writers—was one of several testosterone-soaked quips Mailer offered during a private question-and-answer session with on- and off-campus writers at the Kelly Writers House March 1. Mailer freely shared his pugilistic perspective on the writer’s craft with the audience. A few more samples:

On envy: “Writers will never be free of envy. It’s too solitary an occupation.”

On the nature of novel writing: “It’s essentially very competitive writing novels, because it’s your view of existence against someone else’s.”

On assessing your place in the literary firmament: “What you truly hope to find is that you’ll end up with the objectiveness of a truly good athlete, who will look at a competitive athlete and see all their virtues, what they have to compete against, and also recognize where they’re superior. …That sort of assessment, what athletes make of each other, is ideally what you would hope for novelists to make of each other. But we don’t. We’re too delicate. We’re too spoiled.”

Professor Emeritus of English Robert Lucid, a longtime friend of Mailer’s, introduced the author.

Trumped-up charges: This year’s breakout “reality” TV series, NBC’s “The Apprentice,” is the talk of water coolers all over the country. The man the contestants are competing to work for, New York real estate magnate Donald Trump W’68, is pleased with the show’s success, telling Newsweek (March 1) with characteristic hyperbole, “I can tell you that at various business schools, like Harvard and Wharton, it’s mandatory watching.” Is it really? We decided to put the statement to the test by calling some Wharton offices. “As a whole, I think the administration is not paying a lot of attention to ‘The Apprentice,’” MBA Program Office Director Amy Orlov told Buzz. “But I can tell you that Donald Trump and ‘The Apprentice’ were a big part of our Wharton Follies production this year.” Wharton Follies, for you non-B-schoolers, is the annual satirical revue staged by Wharton MBA students. As for the undergrads, “I’m sure they’re watching. It’s not mandatory,” said Sharon Mulholland, program coordinator in the Wharton Undergraduate Division, who went on to add that the students who do watch are probably the type who like “Survivor”-style reality contests.

Off to tend to a different flock: This year’s 20th anniversary edition of the Philadelphia International Children’s Festival will be the last for director Brian Joyce. The man who has run the event for 12 years is retiring in order to enter the ministry in the Methodist Church. Joyce told Buzz that he was simply trading tykes for grownups in making the move from stage to pulpit: “It’s the same job—it’s just preaching to a bigger audience.”

Originally published on March 18, 2004