Penknife

Penknife

A podcast about writers who may or may not have written about crime, but who definitely committed it.

Episodes

October 31, 2021 1 min

Penknife Season 1: Liberty and the Pursuit

Coming Soon!

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Outside an East Village diner, in the early morning hours of July 18th, 1981, a writer named Jack Henry Abbott stabs waiter and fellow writer Richard Adan to death because Adan refuses him use of the diner’s bathroom. Abbott is no ordinary writer; from age 12-37 he’s lived all but 9 ½ months in prison or juvenile detention. At the time of the murder, he’s just been released from prison and within a matter of days his highly praised...

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November 8, 2021 31 min

 

With Mailer’s help, Abbott is released from jail. His book, In the Belly of the Beast, is garnering rave advance reviews and is primed to be one of the biggest books of the summer. We take a close look at the night he threw away his literary career—and his life—by senselessly taking the life of another writer, Richard Adan. The killing’s ripple effect is widespread, affecting not just Adan, Abbott and their families, but his pen...

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November 15, 2021 36 min

When writer Joseph Harms hears of our idea to make a podcast about criminal writers, he leaves a series of disturbing messages pointing us in the direction of one of Abbott’s famous penpals: Jerzy Kosinski.  Harms claims that Kosinski killed a man, would regularly hide in people’s walls for days at a time and was somehow responsible for the Manson murders! Allegations such as these are way too juicy not to investigate. So that’s wh...

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November 22, 2021 34 min

After defecting from Poland Jerzy Kosinski gets to work trying to make a name for himself in the States. He starts telling some incredibly tall tales about his childhood during the war and somehow manages to publish a few non-fiction books in English despite the fact that his grasp on the language is tentative, at best. In order to write his great book, Mailer sails across the Pacific to fight in World War 2. Well, he does a bit of...

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November 29, 2021 34 min

In fall of 1965 a book called The Painted Bird is published and begins to make waves across the literary world. It’s the story of a boy separated from his parents for six years during WW2. It follows him while he wanders the Polish countryside witnessing and enduring unimaginably sadistic torture and abuse. And as if the plot weren’t shocking enough, it’s made all the more sensational by the fact that it’s true! Yes, the author, a ...

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December 6, 2021 40 min

After spending the 1950s trying to follow up The Naked and the Dead with another hit, Mailer writes two poorly-received novels and mostly spends the decade getting stoned, drunk, angry and delusional. By 1960 he’s so far gone that he decides to run for Mayor of New York City. To celebrate his decision he throws a party that begins with him announcing his candidacy and ends with him stabbing his wife Adele in the chest with a rusty ...

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December 13, 2021 40 min

Mailer’s violent ways continue both off and on the page. He fictionalizes the stabbing of his wife in an absurd, grotesque little novel aptly titled An American Dream. Not to be outdone, Jerzy Kosinki and his finest ghostwriter get to work on an even more grotesque little novel called Steps which will win him the National Book Award for fiction in 1969. That year's non-fiction winner is our guy Norman Mailer with his book The A...

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December 20, 2021 44 min

If you’ve made it to Episode 8 and part of you still likes Mailer and/or Kosinski, that’ll change with this episode. Jerzy Kosinski admits to having committed rape when he was a young man in Poland, and his adult behavior is just as horrific. As for Norman Mailer, he takes it upon himself to try to save the patriarchy from Second-wave feminism by attacking Kate Millet in The Prisoner of Sex and then at the so-called “Town Bloody Ha...

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December 27, 2021 39 min

On July 9th, 1981 Jack Henry Abbott, Norman Mailer and Jerzy Kosinki get together at an expensive Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village to celebrate the imminent release of Abbot’s book. A week later Richard Adan is dead and Kosinksi and Mailer have a choice to make: Stand by Abbott or throw him under the bus? Mailer endures the negative publicity and supports his friend while Kosinski turns on both Abbott and the political Left....

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January 3, 2022 41 min

A Village voice exposé denounces Kosinski for using ghostwriters and casts aspersions on his entire literary career. Nine years later Jerzy Kosinski is a broken man. His writing career is over; he’s managed to write only one novel which was unanimously panned. One night after going to the movies, he drowns himself in his bathtub. Across town, Mailer’s easing into the role of one of the aging titans of American letters. One of Maile...

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