Harry Cabluck, Associated Press
Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, is shown with the more than 1,000 boxes containing the archives of author Norman Mailer in Austin, Texas. Mailer, who died Nov. 10, 2007, sold the material to the center in 2005.

AUSTIN, Texas — Norman Mailer was a literary pugilist, attacking his subjects and opponents as writer, debater and cultural provocateur.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, fighter, feuder, journalist and poet, Mailer was a key figure as postwar America passed through the era of civil rights, Vietnam and women's liberation.

Recently, his personal archive — more than 1,000 boxes of manuscripts, letters, magazines, drawings, photographs and more — opened to the public at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Mailer sold the archive to the Ransom Center for $2.5 million in 2005. He died Nov. 10. It has taken archivists two years to catalog the collection for viewing by scholars, researchers and the public.

Mailer became famous with his debut novel, 1948's "The Naked and the Dead," which drew on his experiences as a soldier in World War II. Other best-known works include "The Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song."

"Norman Mailer's ambition was to write the great American novel. Perhaps he didn't," said Ransom Center Director Thomas Staley. "His engagement with culture, sometimes combative and bombastic, but always interesting, made him a dominant literary and cultural figure."

The archive includes materials from the 1930s to 2005. It has several unpublished materials, ranging from screenplays and short stories to "No Percentage," a novel written while Mailer was a student at Harvard.

There are about 40,000 letters to and from family, other writers and notable personalities, including Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon.

It includes two stories written when he was 8 and 11 years old: "Adventures of Bob and Paul" and "The Martian Invasion." It also has files from his accountants and lawyers, report cards, tax returns and car repair bills.

"His mother kept everything. She was convinced of his genius," Staley said.

There are likely to be few real surprises, said Steve Mielke, the Ransom Center's lead archivist on the project. Mailer's life was so public — "very much like an open book," Mielke said — that it's unlikely the collection holds any skeletons. But there are a few nuggets to be found.

A personal phone list includes numbers for Playboy's Hugh Hefner, women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, actor Montgomery Clift and writer Truman Capote, to name a few.

The collection of letters includes one from Capote in 1960 when Capote was living in Spain and writing "In Cold Blood."

"Hope other aspects of your summer are equally triumphant," Capote wrote in tiny script in blue ink. "My own is — quiet. Am working steadily on my book about the murder case in Kansas — but it is very difficult, especially since I have to keep battling my own emotional involvement."

The Mailer archive is the largest collection of a single writer at the Ransom Center, which boasts holdings that are said to be worth $1 billion, including the papers of a number of prominent writers.

"I think it's going to give a generation of students subjects for their dissertations," Staley said.