Joan Didion and John Dunne, 1970s
An extensive collection of writings, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera provides deep insight into their life and work
The New York Public Library has acquired the archives of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. The dual collection comprises the couple’s literary and personal papers and stands as a rich testament to two of the most successful and important writers in postwar America.
The collection offers a substantial account of their life and work, providing personal and professional documentation of their careers and intellectual legacies. Noteworthy pieces in the collection include:
- Correspondence spanning six decades, including 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;
- Several hundred photographs, many of them candid images taken throughout the couple’s life, including photographs from their 1964 marriage and of the family at home and on travels;
- Screenplay drafts—26 in total—that the couple worked on together that reveal the iterative nature of their collaborations.
More highlights are listed below.
The collection, once processed, will be available to researchers at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue, one of the Library’s world-renowned research centers: a fitting final home for the bicoastal couple’s papers. Although a California native, Didion considered both New York and California as home. The pair met in New York and spent significant periods living in the City. In Didion’s final interview with Time magazine in January 2021, she was asked: “Which feels more like home: New York or California?” Didion responded, “Both.”
The collection, of approximately 240 linear feet, provides exceptional detail into the life and work of Didion and Dunne, beginning with memorabilia from Didion’s infancy and featuring unique items concerning their careers, their marriage and family, and their deaths. It is the most comprehensive collection of the authors’ materials and includes personal and professional papers; manuscripts and typescripts for journalism, essays, books and screenplays; photographs; correspondence; art and ephemera; inscribed copies of books from Didion and Dunne’s library; and more.
The acquisition was approved by the Library’s Program & Policy Committee of the Board of Trustees at its Jan. 26 meeting. The processing, preserving, and cataloging of the archive will begin immediately, after which the collection will be housed in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. It is expected to be available to patrons in early 2025.
“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,” said Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library. “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. Both deeply intimate and professionally significant, this collection is incomparable in its scope of materials, providing unprecedented insight into their creative process. We can’t wait to make this available to the public and inspire the next generation of thinkers and writers.”
Further highlights of the acquisition 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.
As agent for the sale of the archive, Marsha Malinowski of Marsha Malinowski Fine Books & Manuscripts LLCwrites: “The Estate could not be more pleased with the placement of the Joan Didion/John Gregory Dunne Archive at The New York Public Library. The synergy of the archive with existing archives at NYPL is nothing short of extraordinary. Together, NYPL’s holdings now document the expansive story of American literary culture of the 20th and 21st centuries with even greater gravitas.”
Paul Bogaards, the spokesperson for the Didion Dunne Literary Trust, the custodians of the writers’ intellectual property, confirmed the Trust’s enthusiasm for the acquisition: “Joan and John were great admirers and supporters of The New York Public Library, so this is an ideal home for their archive. The Didion Dunne collection will be populated with materials that reinforce the importance of their work as great chroniclers of American life. The archives provide detailed documentation of their writing and creative process and an intimate window into their lives. They will be a welcome and essential resource for future generations of readers, students, and scholars of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.”
The Library anticipates the Didion and Dunne papers will become one of its most heavily used collections, an essential resource for scholars, students, journalists, and writers studying Didion, Dunne, American literature and journalism, and more. The archive will join a number of collections from their contemporaries in the Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division including correspondence from authors who were friends and fellow literary figures, such as the Camilla and Earl McGrath papers, the Tom Wolfe papers, the Jean Stein papers, the Ted Solotaroff papers, and the recently acquired Renata Adler papers (currently undergoing processing), as well as the New York Review of Booksrecords. Didion and Dunne had a close and long-standing relationship with Bob Silvers, co-founder and long-time editor of the Review—Didion once said of Silvers, “I trust him more than anyone.”
“The acquisition of the Didion and Dunne papers reflects the Library’s commitment to collecting the papers of paradigm-changing writers—and in particular, women writers,” said Julie Golia, Associate Director, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books and Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts. “Didion’s literary contributions, her public persona, and her tenacity in the face of grief have shaped the work of countless intellectual successors, both known and unknown. At The New York Public Library, Didion’s papers will continue to inspire new generations of authors.”
While both Didion and Dunne were prolific writers on their own, they also worked together on screenplays 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). Each draft includes handwritten annotations from both Didion and Dunne; together, they offer in-depth documentation of their editorial partnership and their impact on American popular culture.
Dunne died at 71 in 2003. Two years later, their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, died at 39. Didion wrote about 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 and was adapted for the Broadway stage in 2007 in a one-woman production starring Vanessa Redgrave. Didion died in December 2021 at age 87 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
About the Manuscripts and Archives Division
The Manuscripts and Archives Division holds over 29,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives across almost 6,000 collections. The division holds some of the Library’s greatest treasures, from illuminated manuscripts to founding documents of the United States. The strengths of the division are the papers and records of individuals, families, and organizations, particularly in greater New York City; the American Revolution; the U.S. Civil War; American literature and literary culture; the history of publishing; and LGBTQ+ history. Serving thousands of researchers a year, the division’s collections support cutting-edge research and scholarship across many disciplines.
About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves nearly 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library: nypl.org/support
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