The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center opened the “Norman Mailer Papers,” more than 1,000 boxes of materials, to researchers, students and the public on Jan. 3.
When lined up side by side, the boxes of materials would run more than one length of an American football field from end zone to end zone–120 yards.
Filed away in the basement of the Ransom Center, the plain-looking boxes with freshly printed labels don’t begin to tell the story of the contents they contain, but once opened they quickly give a glimpse into Mailer’s life.
In one aisle a 1970s Rolodex contains Mailer’s contacts, ranging from the bars he went to, to acquaintances like Hugh Hefner and Truman Capote. Another contains receipts for the LEGOs he purchased to create a large sculpture in his home.
“His mom saved everything and as he got older he got the idea that his things were of value and he wanted to save all of his materials. He would label boxes ‘for archive,'” said Steve Mielke, lead archivist for the Mailer project.
The Mailer materials, the Ransom Center’s largest single-author archive, includes handwritten and typed manuscripts, galley proofs, screenplays, correspondence, research materials and notes, legal, business and financial records, photographs, audio and video tapes, books, magazines, clippings, scrapbooks, electronic records, drawings and awards that document the life, work and family of Mailer from the early 1930s to 2005.
Mailer died on Nov. 10 at the age of 84.
The Ransom Center announced in 2005 the acquisition of Mailer’s archive, which included materials associated with every one of his literary projects, whether completed or not. Materials from 2005 to Mailer’s death will be integrated into the archive at a later date. A cart filled with items left to be processed, including a manuscript of his last novel “The Castle in the Forest,” sits in Mielke’s office.
It took Mielke and six others almost two years to process, organize and catalog the collection. The size and variety of materials were the biggest challenge when working on the archive, but also what makes it unique, he said.
About 40,000 of Mailer’s letters, including wartime letters to his family, personal and business correspondence, and the originals of letters sent to him from American writers, notables and three generations of readers, are in the archive. Many of the correspondence files contain incoming letters with carbons of Mailer’s outgoing responses.
The more than 3,500 correspondents include Allen Ginsberg, Lillian Hellman, Aldous Huxley, Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Stella Adler, Robert Lowell, LeRoi Jones, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, James Jones, Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates and George Plimpton, among many other important American figures.
A finding aid, which provides an inventory of the archive, and additional Mailer resources can be found at www.hrc.utexas.edu/mailer. Mielke suggests browsing the finding aid before heading to the Ransom Center’s reading room to determine exact items of interest and the numbers required to view them.