Norman Mailer Papers Open to Researchers, Students and Public on Jan. 3

Dec. 18, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas — The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin opens the “Norman Mailer Papers,” more than 1,000 boxes of materials, to researchers, students and the public on Thursday, 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.

Steve Mielke, lead archivist for processing the Norman Mailer Papers, stands among the more than 1,000 boxes of materials
Steve Mielke, lead archivist for processing the Norman Mailer Papers, stands among the more than 1,000 boxes of materials.
Photo: Pete Smith

The Mailer materials, the Harry 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.

“Norman Mailer’s ambition was to write the greatest American novel,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. “Perhaps he failed, but he was indeed a major American writer. His engagement with the culture, sometimes combative and bombastic, but always interesting, made him a dominant literary and cultural figure of the second half of the 20th century.”

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.

The archive took almost two years to process, organize and catalog.

“The sheer volume and variety of materials makes this archive unique,” said Steve Mielke, lead archivist for the project. “Mailer’s long life and engagement with a mixture of issues, ranging from social causes and politics to the feminist movement, and his relationships with other authors generated a wealth of information. The correspondence alone is staggering, documenting more than 60 years of Mailer’s life and influence on American literature and culture. ”

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.

First edition of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1948), Stanley Burnshaw's copy
First edition of Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1948), Stanley Burnshaw's copy.

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.

“Correspondence within an archive often reveals unexpected insights that aren’t obvious in manuscripts or elsewhere,” said Mielke. “From the 1940s to the 1980s, Mailer’s letters with Japanese literary translator Eiichi Yamanishi, for example, record a fascinating discussion between author and translator about the composition and meaning of Mailer’s works.”

The archive contains extensive records of Mailer’s literary production, the bulk of which consist of drafts of Mailer’s books, plays, screenplays, poems, speeches and journal contributions, both published and unpublished.

All of the manuscripts of Mailer’s more than 40 books, with the exception of one of the multiple drafts of “The Naked and the Dead,” can be found in the archive. For each of Mailer’s books, there is a complete range of materials, from handwritten manuscripts to typescripts, galleys and page proofs. For some books, manuscripts are accompanied by research materials and correspondence.

In addition to literary works, the archive contains materials related to Mailer’s 1969 New York City mayoral primary campaign, his tenure as president of the American chapter of P.E.N. and his family and personal life.

A finding aid, which provides an inventory of the archive, and additional Mailer resources can be found online.

More than 15 other Ransom Center collections contain Mailer related materials, including Elizabeth Hardwick, Hugh Kenner, Bernard Malamud, Peter Matthiessen and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

High-resolution press images from the Mailer archive are available.

For more information, contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Ransom Center, 512-471-8949; Alicia Dietrich, Harry Ransom Center, 512-232-3667.