Several years ago, Mallory contacted Leslie A. Morris, Harvard’s curator of modern books and manuscripts, to inquire about the University’s interest in purchasing the archive, which provides insight into the life of the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, journalist, and playwright who died last November.
After several years of negotiation with Mallory, Harvard finally purchased the collection, which arrived three weeks ago.
The collection includes correspondence between the pair—”No steamy love letters, I’m afraid,” Morris said—transcripts of Mallory interviewing Mailer, photographs, press clippings, scraps of paper saved from her writing lessons with Mailer, and an unpublished memoir called “Making Love with Norman.”
Morris said she is “a little ticked” by the media’s focus on the collection’s sexual content. Harvard, she said, did not purchase the collection solely for its explicit material.
“When we acquire collections of material, there often is sex in it because people are human beings,” Morris said. “It’s very weird to have a completely sexless collection.”
According to Morris, Harvard purchased the collection mainly for its insight into Mailer’s “method of working” as a writer. Mailer’s comments on the manuscript of Mallory’s unpublished novel “When I Fall in Love” are especially revealing, Morris said.
“What we’re interested in here is not sex, but in how writers write,” she added.
Beth Brainard, director of communications for the Harvard College Library, said the curators of the Library found the papers in Mallory’s collection significant not because of their sexual content but because Mailer was a graduate of Harvard and an influential American writer.
“It’s always an extraordinarily important thing for any large resource center to get a hold of the literary remains of anybody of that stature,” said Robert Scanlan, professor of English and Mailer’s acquaintance in the early 1970s.
Scanlan said he had a “rollicking” time with Mailer—“a pleasantly truculent guy, sort of like a barroom companion”—who loved to project the “macho image.”
Though Scanlan said he did not know the details of Mailer’s sex life, the English professor said any explicit description of the writer’s sexuality would shed light on Mailer’s fiction, which often directly explores sex.
“Sexual content, racy language, obscene language are definitely a major part of his career as an author,” Scanlan said.
——Staff Writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.