The Didion Dunne Archive at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library Acquires the Papers of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne
An extensive collection of writings, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera provides deep insight into their life and work.
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 post-war America.
The New York Public Library’s Didion Dunne archive 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 photographs 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.
Letter and clipping from Joan Didion to her family during her early years at Vogue, 1957
The collection, once processed, will be available to researchers at the Library’s world-renowned Research Center, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue, a fitting final home for the bi-coastal 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.”
Joan Didion, 1950s
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 leading to their careers, their marriage and family, and subsequently their death. It is the most comprehensive collection of the authors 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.
“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.”
—Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library
Further highlights of the acquisition include:
Early journalistic writings including notes and typescripts from her interview with 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 the 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 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry;
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”;
More than 140 letters between Didion and her family from her college and Vogue years, 1954-1957.
Letter from John Gregory Dunne to Time editor Jason McManus, 1964
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 Books records; Didion and Dunne had a close and long standing relationship with Bob Silvers, co-founder and long-time editor. 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."