Joan Didion estate sale features author’s notebooks, sunglasses, typewriter

The auction, titled ‘An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion’ will take place at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, and online Nov. 16.

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One of two gelatin silver prints of Joan Didion photographed by Brigitte Lacombe that are to be sold at auction.

Provided by Stair Galleries

Hundreds of Joan Didion’s personal items will be sold at auction in New York this month, allowing fans of the influential essayist and author a chance to own a piece of her life.

The estate sale, titled “An American Icon: Property From the Collection of Joan Didion” will take place at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, on Nov. 16 and features works of art, sunglasses, notebooks, furniture and typewriters that filled the New York apartment Didion shared with her husband, John Gregory Dunne.

The writer of such classics as “The White Album” and “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” died last December at the age of 87 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

“She’s a literary celebrity, but her reach is much deeper than that,” said Lisa Thomas, Stair Galleries fine art specialist and sale lead. “The sale itself takes on a whole new level because people are interested in what she owned, how she lived, what her private space looked like and what was in it.”

Among the items in the catalog are art and works by artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Brice Marden, Ed Ruscha, Jennifer Bartlett, Vija Celmins and Patti Smith. Also included are photographs of Didion taken by Brigitte Lacombe, Annie Liebovitz, Mary Ellen Mark and Julian Wasser.


A collection of Didion’s books and other items to be auctioned.

Provided by Stair Galleries

Furnishings up for auction include a large partner’s desk from California, a Late Regency Pembroke table, an American writing desk, silverware, porcelain and collectibles purchased by Didion and her husband on their travels. 

Objects given to the couple as gifts by artists and writers are also listed, as well as several books, including 14 by suburban Oak Park-native Ernest Hemingway, who Didion said influenced her the most as a child when she was starting to write.

Thomas said initial response to the auction has been “enormous.” It was difficult to estimate final auction numbers because Didion’s popularity could drive up bids for otherwise ordinary objects, she added.

“It really changes the dynamic when you know exactly where the items are coming from, and in the case of an iconic person like Joan Didion, it just really ups the ante,” Thomas said.

Didion pioneered “New Journalism” — which wedded literary style to nonfiction reporting — in the 1960s along with Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron and Gay Talese. She spent her later years in New York but was born in California and lived in Los Angeles for two decades.


American oak, walnut and bird’s-eye maple partner’s desk.

Provided by Stair Galleries

In 1968, Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” established her as one of the finest literary talents of her time. The collection of essays mainly covers her time in California during the 1960s.

Didion won a National Book Award in 2005 for “The Year of Magical Thinking,” written out of grief that followed Dunne’s sudden death in 2003. Their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, was gravely ill in a hospital at the time and would died in 2005 at the age of 39.

The memoir was a best-seller, and Didion later adapted it as a one-woman Broadway play that starred Vanessa Redgrave. President Barack Obama presented Didion with a National Humanities Medal in 2013. In 2019, the Library of America began compiling her work in bound volumes.


A collection of engraved silverware.

Provided by Stair Galleries

Didion and her husband, also a writer, had a successful career on the side as screenwriters. They collaborated on a remake of “A Star Is Born” and adaptations of Didion’s “Play It As It Lays” and Dunne’s “True Confessions.”

Proceeds from the auction will benefit Parkinson’s research and other movement disorders at Columbia University, and the Sacramento Historical Society for the benefit of the Sacramento City College scholarship for women in literature.

“It’s been an amazing process to work on the sale and to curate it and to put it together, to be in her space and to see these objects first hand,” Thomas said. “We’re thrilled to be able to share it with the public now.”


A collection of desk items, including a music box and photographs.

Provided by Stair Galleries

Contributing: Colleen Long, Associated Press

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