Magical Thinking: The New York Public Library Has Acquired Joan Didion’s Papers

Joan Didion.
Joan Didion. / Janet Fries/GettyImages

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” wrote Joan Didion. In telling her stories, the novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and socialite accumulated a vast repository of materials that are now in the possession of the New York Public Library.

In January, the NYPL disclosed it had obtained the late author’s archive of personal correspondence, photos, research materials, and assorted records, as well as those of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. Collectively, they help assemble a portrait of Didion’s long career as a philosopher and student of human nature.

Drafts and supplemental notes for essays in The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem are included, as are the numerous drafts Didion and Dunne wrote for films like 1976’s A Star Is Born and 1996’s Up Close and Personal. Letters exchanged with everyone from John Wayne to Jacqueline Onassis are preserved. The archive even begins at the beginning: with the footprint of a newly born Didion stamped on a 1934 hospital record.

Didion began her professional career as a copywriter for Vogue magazine, a job she grew to dislike (“I can hardly wait to quit,” she wrote in one letter). But Vogue also gave her an opportunity to see her byline in print with 1961’s essay “Self-Respect—Its Source, Its Power,” which she composed at the last minute to fill some empty pages in the publication. Because the layout was already set, Didion had to write it to fit an exact character count.

Books—including 1963’s Run River—followed, as did 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a poignant memoir about the deaths of both her husband and their adult daughter, Quintana Roo. Didion passed away in 2021 at the age of 87.

The NYPL expects the archive, which spans 240 linear feet, to be available to the public by 2025.

[h/t The New York Times]