Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon (born November 2, 1951) is an American novelist, essayist, and critic. His novels are renowned for their attention to historical detail and context and for the author's crisp wit and interest in the "bystanders" to larger historical events.[1] He is the author of nine books of fiction, including Henry and Clara, Two Moons, Dewey Defeats Truman, Aurora 7, Bandbox, Fellow Travelers, Watergate, Finale, and most recently Landfall. He has also published nonfiction on plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One's Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine's Garage), as well as two volumes of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact).

Thomas Mallon
Mallon at the 2019 Texas Book Festival
Mallon at the 2019 Texas Book Festival
Born (1951-11-02) November 2, 1951 (age 69)
Glen Cove, New York
Alma materBrown University,
Harvard University
Notable awardsHarold D. Vursell Memorial Award

He is a former literary editor of Gentleman's Quarterly, where he wrote the "Doubting Thomas" column in the 1990s, and has contributed frequently to The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar, and other periodicals. He was appointed a member of the National Council on the Humanities in 2002 and served as Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2005-2006.

His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, the National Book Critics Circle citation for reviewing, and the Vursell prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for distinguished prose style. He was elected as a new member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.[2]

Early life and educationEdit

Thomas Vincent Mallon was born in Glen Cove, New York and grew up in Stewart Manor, N.Y., on Long Island. His father, Arthur Mallon, was a salesman and his mother, Caroline, kept the home. Mallon graduated from Sewanhaka High School in 1969. He has often said that he had "the kind of happy childhood that is so damaging to a writer."[3]

Mallon went on to study English at Brown University, where he wrote his undergraduate honors thesis on American author Mary McCarthy. He credits McCarthy, with whom he later became friends, as the most enduring influence on his career as a writer.[4]

Mallon earned a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he wrote his dissertation on the English World War I poet Edmund Blunden. On sabbatical from Vassar College in 1982-1983, Mallon spent a year as a visiting scholar at St. Edmund's House (later College) at Cambridge University. It was here that he drafted most of A Book of One's Own, a work of nonfiction about diarists and diary-writing. The book's rather unexpected success earned Mallon tenure at Vassar College, where he taught English from 1979-1991.

Writing careerEdit

Thomas Mallon's writing style is characterized by charm, wit, and a meticulous attention to detail and character development. His nonfiction often explores "fringe" genres—diaries, letters, plagiarism—just as his fiction frequently tells the stories of characters "on the fringes of big events."[5]

A Book of One's Own, an informal guide to the great diaries of literature, was published in 1984 and gave Mallon his first dose of critical acclaim. Richard Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times (28 November 1984) called the book "an engaging meditation on the varied and irrepressible spirit of life that insists on preserving itself on paper." In A Book of One's Own, Mallon covers a wide range of diarists from Samuel Pepys to Anais Nin. He explained his enthusiasm for the genre by saying: "Writing books is too good an idea to be left to authors." The success of A Book of One's Own won Mallon a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1986.[6]

Mallon then began publishing fiction, a genre in which he'd informally dabbled throughout childhood and young adulthood. Mallon published his first novel, Arts and Sciences, in 1988 about Arthur Dunne, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate student in English. Soon after its publication, in 1989, Mallon released a second nonfiction book called Stolen Words: Forays Into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism.

Henry and Clara, published in 1994, established Mallon as a writer of historical fiction from that point forward. The novel traces the lives of Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the young couple who accompanied Abraham Lincoln to Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. A story of star-crossed lovers intermingles with personal and political tragedies and spans the couple's first meeting in childhood to their eventual derangement.[7] Mallon's writing career took a dramatic turn when John Updike praised Henry and Clara in The New Yorker, calling Mallon "one of the most interesting American novelists at work."[8]

Historical fiction, Mallon has declared in interviews, is the genre in which he is most interested as a writer. "I think the main thing that has led me to write historical fiction is that it is a relief from the self," he explains.[9] American political history has been perhaps his main subject and interest; in 1994, he was the ghostwriter of former Vice President Dan Quayle's memoir, Standing Firm.[10]

After the publication of Henry and Clara, Mallon went on to write seven more works of historical fiction, including his most recent novels, Watergate (2012), Finale (2015), and Landfall (2019). Watergate, a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction,[11] is a retelling of the Watergate scandal from the perspective of seven characters, some familiar to the public memory, such as Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods, and some brought to light from the sidelines of the scandal, such as Fred LaRue.[12] Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years, one of the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2015, takes readers to the political gridiron of Washington in 1986; the wealthiest enclaves of southern California; and the volcanic landscape of Iceland, where President Ronald Reagan engages in two almost apocalyptic days of negotiation with Mikhail Gorbachev.[13] Readers of Finale find themselves in the shoes of many characters both central and peripheral to the Reagan presidency––from Nancy Reagan to Richard Nixon to actress Bette Davis.[14]

Landfall, Mallon's latest novel, takes place during the George W. Bush years against a backdrop of political catastrophe: the Iraq insurgency and Hurricane Katrina, in particular. At the center of the narrative, though, is a love affair between two West Texans, Ross Weatherall and Allison O'Connor, whose destinies have been intertwined with Bush's for decades. Many others in the wide cast of characters––such as Barbara Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Christopher Hitchens, and more––will be familiar to most readers.

Awards and nominationsEdit

Later lifeEdit

Openly gay—and recently describing himself as a "supposed literary intellectual/homosexual/Republican,"[15] Mallon currently lives with his longtime partner in Washington, D.C. and is a professor emeritus of English at The George Washington University.

See alsoEdit


Thomas Mallon in 2009


  • Edmund Blunden. Boston: Twayne. 1983.
  • A book of one's own : people and their diaries. Ticknor & Fields. 1984.
  • Stolen words : forays into the origins and ravages of plagiarism. Ticknor & Fields. 1989.
  • Rockets and rodeos and other American spectacles. Diane Publishing Co. 1993.
  • In fact : essays on writers and writing. Pantheon. 2001.
  • Mrs. Paine's Garage and the murder of John F. Kennedy. Pantheon. 2002.
  • Yours ever : people and their letters. Pantheon. 2009.

Essays and reportingEdit

Critical studies and reviews of Mallon's workEdit



  1. ^ "Atlantic Unbound | Interviews | 2004.01.09". Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  2. ^ "Thomas Mallon Elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences." GW Today (April 19, 2012) Retrieved 2012-06-08
  3. ^ Michael McGregor, "Thomas Mallon," Twenty-First-Century American Novelists, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 350. Gale Cengage Learning.
  4. ^ André Bernard, "An Interview with Thomas Mallon," Five Points, vol. XIII (January 2009): 97-114.
  5. ^ André Bernard, "An Interview with Thomas Mallon," Five Points, vol. XIII (January 2009): 97-114.
  6. ^ Thomas Mallon, "Introduction," A Book of One's Own. Ticknor and Fields (1984).
  7. ^ Thomas Mallon. Henry and Clara. Picador: August 15, 1995.
  8. ^ John Updike, "Excellent Humbug," New Yorker, 70 (5 September 1994): 102-105.
  9. ^ Michael Coffey, "Thomas Mallon: Picturing History and Seeing Stars," Publishers Weekly (January 20, 1997): 380-381.
  10. ^ Joe Queenan, "Ghosts in the Machine," New York Times (20 March 2005). Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  11. ^ Ron Charles, (6 March 2012). "'Watergate' vies for hometown prize." The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Janet Maslin. (15 February 2012). "Nixon and Friends, Stalked With Literary License,'Watergate,' a novel by Thomas Mallon." The New York Times.
  13. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2015". The New York Times. 2015-11-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  14. ^ Draper, Robert (2015-09-16). "'Finale,' by Thomas Mallon". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  15. ^ Mallon, Thomas. "Battle Cry of the Elite". New York Magazine (March 21-April 7, 2016): 27. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  16. ^ Sayers, Valerie (21 August 1994). "Sunday Book Review of Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon". NY Times.
  17. ^ Check if this is actually a review of Mallon's book.
  18. ^ Online version is titled "Mario Vargas Llosa’s mad Peru".
  19. ^ Online version is titled "Can the G.O.P. ever reclaim Wendell Willkie’s legacy?".

External linksEdit