Class of 1959
Robert Mayer is an award-winning newspaper columnist and editor in New York and New Mexico who left the world of daily deadlines to devote himself to longer forms of writing: novels and non-fiction. In all, he has produced at least 14 critically acclaimed books that cover a vast range of genres and subjects. Mayer’s non-fiction varies from a memoir about his childhood in New York City (“Baseball and Men’s Lives: The True Confessions of a Skinny-Marink”) to a true-crime story of men unjustly convicted of murder in Oklahoma (“The Dreams of Ada”). His novels run from fantasies about the assassination of John F. Kennedy (“I, JFK”) to a sweeping reimagining of the 300-year history of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfort and the rise of the Rothschild family (“The Origin of Sorrow”).
Born in the Bronx on Feb. 24, 1939, Mayer claims to have “emerged from the womb with writing in his blood and CCNY stamped on his forehead.” As a student at the College, he performed the unlikely feat of becoming sports editor of Observation Post and editor of The Campus. After earning his B.A., he attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University on a fellowship, and after a brief stint at the Washington Post, joined the staff of Newsday. He spent 10 years there, six as a reporter and four as the paper’s New York City columnist. In 1968, he won the National Headliner Award as the best feature columnist in the country. A year later, he won the Mike Berger Award for the year’s best writing about New York City. He won again in 1971, becoming the first person to be so honored twice.
Mayer then moved to Santa Fe, N.M., to write books and magazine articles and to help run a newspaper. He served six years as managing editor, then editor of The Santa Fe Reporter, an alternative weekly. His journalism has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Rocky Mountain Magazine and numerous other publications.
Many of his books have been reissued in new editions. They include “Superfolks,” which has influenced the treatment of super heroes in comics and movies forever; “Notes of a Baseball Dreamer,” a memoir about growing up as a wannabe major leaguer in New York; and “The Dreams of Ada,” published in 1987, the true story of two men spending life in prison for a murder they did not commit, a book that helped inspire John Grisham to write a follow-up book in 2008, “The Innocent Man,” in which he acknowledged Mayer’s ground-breaking work.
“The Dreams of Ada’ is an astounding book,” said Grisham, “a great example of true crime writing and I relied upon it heavily during my research. Robert Mayer, the author, was completely cooperative, and kept meticulous notes from his research 20 years earlier. Many of the same characters are involved in his story and mine.” Mayer and Grisham were both sued for $25 million for libel, defamation and conspiracy by the former district attorney of Ada, Okla. The suit was dismissed by a federal judge.
Mayer also wrote “The Execution”; “Midge and Decker”; “The Grace of Shortstops”; “Sweet Salt”; and “The Search.” His more recent books include “The Ferret’s Tale,” an examination of nothing less than the human — and not so human — condition, all told from the point of view of a wise, spunky ferret named Cleo, and “Danse Macabre,” a thriller about voodoo, murder and a spooky New Orleans cemetery