The Executioner’s Song, Mailer’s third and most important collaboration with Lawrence Schiller, is published on 15 October, with excerpts appearing in Playboy, October-December. Based on over 15,000 pages of interviews, letters, media reports, legal and medical documents, this 1,056-page narrative tells the life story of Gary Gilmore, a Utah double murderer who fights to have his own execution carried out shortly after his conviction. He is executed by a firing squad in January 1977.
This “true-life novel,” as Mailer describes it, climbs to number three on the New York Times bestseller list in January 1980, and spends 25 weeks, all told, on the list, the longest period for all of his books save The Naked and the Dead. Joan Didion calls it, “an absolutely astonishing book” in her 7 October review in the New York Times Book Review. In early November, after a correspondence with him about prison life, Mailer meets convict Jack Henry Abbott, at the Marion Federal Penitentiary in Illinois. In December, The Executioner’s Song is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and wins the Best Major Work in Fiction Award from Playboy.