NYPL acquires archive of Joan Didion’s papers including personal photos, letters, and more

January 27, 2023

Joan Didion, undated.

The New York Public Library (NYPLhas acquired an extensive collection of papers and personal items belonging to writer Joan Didion and her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. The archive of writings, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera provides a rich portrait of the celebrated couples’ life and work.

Letter and clipping from Joan Didion to her family during her early years at Vogue, 1957.

The collection, which spans six decades, is a snapshot of the lives of two of the most treasured post-war American literary figures; noteworthy items in the archive include letters to and from Margaret Atwood, Richard Avedon, Candice Bergen, Helen Gurley Brown, Michael Crichton, Nora Ephron, Allen Ginsberg, Lillian Hellman, Diane Keaton, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Norman Lear, Jacqueline Onassis, Philip Roth, Charles Schulz, Tennessee Williams, and many others; hundreds of candid photographs, including photos from their 1964 wedding, travels and family life; and 26 screenplay drafts that the bi-coastal couple–who were as much at home in California as they were in Manhattan–collaborated on.

Joan Didion, 1950s.

Joan Didion and John Dunne, 1970s.

Joan Didion, 1960s.

The archive–the most comprehensive existing collection of the authors’ materials–will be available to researchers at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue. The processing of the archive will begin immediately; it is expected to be available to patrons in early 2025.

Joan Didion, 1960s.

Joan Didion and John Dunne in Hawaii, undated.

Letter and clipping from Joan Didion to her family during her early years at Vogue, 1957.

An auction last year of Didion’s personal effects brought jaw-dropping sale prices–including $9,000 for a set of unused notebooks and $10,500 for used cookware. The auction raised $1.9 million for charity.

“The Library is thrilled to announce that our outstanding research collections will now include the archive of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, iconic voices of postwar American journalism, fiction, and screenwriting,” Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library, said in a statement.

“We anticipate that the Didion and Dunne papers, once processed, will become one of our most heavily used collections and an essential resource for scholars, students, and those interested in their intensely collaborative life and work. We can’t wait to make this available to the public and inspire the next generation of thinkers and writers.”

Annotated draft of the screenplay of Up Close and Personal, 1994.

Menu and catering notes for a 1974 dinner party hosted by Didion and Dunne.

Letter from John Dunne to Time editor Jason McManus, 1964.

Additional highlights include:

  • Early journalistic writings including notes and typescripts from Didion’s interview with former Manson Family member Linda Kasabian and a file entitled “Haight Ashbury 1967” filled with autograph notes, typescripts, fragments, and a checklist of the pieces Didion wished to include in Slouching Towards Bethlehem;
  • Transcriptions of the “confessions” from the Central Park jogger case (later revealed to be false), annotated by Didion during her research for her New York Review of Books essay on that topic;
  • Dunne’s extensive correspondence with the murderer of Brandon Teena, which led to a New Yorker piece that was adapted into the Oscar-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry;
  • Notes and drafts related to Didion’s later works The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights;
  • Extensive records of menus, recipes, guest lists, setup notes, and handmade cookbooks documenting the couple’s dinner parties;
  • Didion’s “Babyhood” book with portions filled out by her mother, with clippings and cards inserted celebrating her birth, a lock of her hair, and calendars noting early milestones—for example, 12 January 1935: “laughed aloud”;
  • Over 140 letters between Didion and her family from her college and Vogue years, 1954–57.
  • Annotated screenplay drafts, including the 1976 film A Star is Born, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; the 1972 film adaptation of Didion’s novel Play It As It Lays, starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld; and the 1996 Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer film Up Close and Personal (based on the biography of journalist Jessica Savitch). While both Didion and Dunne were prolific writers on their own, they also worked together on screenplays.

Dunne died in 2003 at 71; The couple’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, died two years later at 39. Didion chronicled the time following her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness in “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2005), which won the 2005 National Book Award for nonfiction. Didion died in December 2021 at age 87. The library anticipates the Didion and Dunne papers will become one of its most popular collections and become an essential resource for scholars, journalists, and writers.


Images courtesy of NYPL


Interested in similar content?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *