Historian Kevin M. Schultz pens book about Buckley and Mailer
The 1960s fascinated former Parkite Kevin M. Schultz to the point that he became a historian, author and history professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.
"(That decade) has always interested me because it’s become this mythologized time in our history," Schultz told The Park Record. "We look at ‘Selma’ the film or the TV show ‘Mad Men’ and the excitement surrounding these things and see how the 60s are portrayed as this transformative time in American history. It was through this decade that we went from this World War II culture to today’s America."
Schultz’s interest in the turbulent times led him to write his new book "Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the Sixties."
The book, published by W.W. Norton & Co., was a No. 1 new release on Amazon.com and reviewed by The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Schultz is in town for an author event at Dolly’s Bookstore on Saturday, Aug. 8, from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. He will sign copies of his book and do a reading.
The author, a former reporter for The Park Record, said "Buckley and Mailer" came to him one night while reading a magazine.
"I get to teach big lecture classes and when I teach about the 1960s, I know all the events because I’m teaching, but I never had a broad descriptive way of understanding this major transformation," he said. "I’ve always been on the lookout for a way into that story.
"Before Norman Mailer died in 2008, he sold his papers for $2.5 million to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin, because he needed money to pay child support and alimony," Schultz said. "A magazine got a hold of some of the letters and published them and I saw the letters."
Schultz saw one correspondence between Mailer and Buckley and thought it was the most amazing letter than he had ever read.
"The letter, which was mean in the way that we’re mean to our friends, and funny, was about the march to Selma," Schultz said. "Buckley was trying to defend the cops, which is a defenseless position, and Mailer was chiding him for this and told him he would make conservatism look bad.
"I thought, ‘Here’s my way into the ’60s,’" he said. "The left was represented by Mailer, attacking the middle. The right was represented by Buckley attacking the middle. And both the left and right were fighting over the future of America."
Schultz knew the friendship between these two opinionated writers was a great story.
"Since they were both larger-than-life figures and led tabloid lifestyles, it was so much fun to write this book," he said. "It was easy for me to do because they were at these major events during the 1960s, debating civil rights, women’s rights, the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
"They would show up at the same anti-Vietnam War rallies and at Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination," Schultz said. "They were at the 1968 National Democratic convention in Chicago, as the riots were going on in the streets, and they were at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, almost getting into a fistfight.
"However, regardless of the difference of opinions, they saw each other as equals, albeit on the other side of the spectrum," he said. "They were both very smart and they liked to have fun and enjoy life. They recognized the fact that even though they would disagree on issues, they could engage in funny, pointed and deep arguments about the country."
Another bond they shared was their upbringing.
"They both came of age during the time when white, Ivy-league-educated men ran the country," Schultz said. "Even though Mailer was Jewish and Buckley was Catholic, they both fell into that category and felt comfortable speaking on behalf of the nation. Yes, they had enormous egos, but they wanted those egos to be the voice of America."
Schultz discovered some interesting tidbits while researching and writing the book.
"Buckley is considered the architect of what we know today as modern conservatism," he said. "What he did was tried to weed out the ‘kooks’ like Ayn Rand and her philosophies, and the John Birch Society that thrives on conspiracy theories, and weaved together the libertarian strand of anti-government ideals and the traditional strand of God, flag and the American family."
Buckley, said Schultz, found a way for those two strands to work together in regards to the right-wing philosophy.
"The New Right, who came up during that time, looked up to him as the exemplar of what a great conservative would look like," he said.
Mailer, for his part, was a little older than the leftist student activists such as Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman.
"But they had read his works and saw him as someone who had a deep philosophy of what America could and should be," Schultz said.
Schultz also learned how quickly Buckley and Mailer went from being larger-than-life in the 1960s, to being almost patron saints in the 1970s.
"It was as if America had moved on without them and they became symbols of a previous era," he said.
The third thing Schultz learned through this project was how to write a book that could reach a broad audience.
"This was a new kind of writing for me," he said. "I wanted to write a book that had a good, solid story, a narrative arc and a book that would teach something."
In doing so, he had to make some "brutal decisions" about what got left out.
"The first draft had everything I wanted in it but by the time I got to the second and third drafts, I was looking for the events that were pertinent to the narrative line and would tell the story," he said. "My editor at Norton told me to picture my book as a multi-act play. I kept that in mind as I wrote it.
"There are four parts of the book that helps the story move along," Schultz said. "It takes place from 1962 to 1972 and talks about all the major events that happened in the 1960s, but told through the letters they wrote back and forth to each other."
Dolly’s Bookstore, 510 Main St., will present author and former Park City resident Kevin M. Schultz on Saturday, Aug. 8, from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. Schultz, a University of Illinois at Chicago historian, will discuss his new book, "Buckley and Mailer, the Difficult Friendship the Shaped the Sixties," which is about two towering figures who served as the 1960’s ideological bookends. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.dollysbookstore.com .
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