Joan Didion’s Possessions Are Going Up for Sale

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Joan Didion for Céline Spring/Summer 2015
Joan Didion for Céline Spring/Summer 2015Photography by Juergen Teller

In an auction in New York, a selection of the seminal American writer’s books, photographs, furniture and art are going up for sale, including a pair of her iconic Céline sunglasses

“Ageing and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events,” Joan Didion wrote in her nihilistic 2011 memoir Blue Nights, “yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored.” The esteemed essayist, journalist, author and screenwriter died in December 2021 in New York, aged 87, and her sterile, therapeutic prose on life and grief remain as masterpieces of literature. Along with her words, Didion’s objects and art are remaining fingerprints of the literary marvel; an auction in New York will now make these pieces available for purchase, with proceeds going to various charities.

Thoroughly examining, poking holes, then piecing together cold facts – whether assessing her own migraine symptoms, or the unexpected loss of her daughter and her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne – Didion’s personal works surgically dissect her fascinating, sometimes melancholic life. Beginning her writing career working for Vogue in the early 1960s, she went on to release her first novel Run River in 1963, paving her way for a prolific career as a practitioner of New Journalism, then a predominantly male movement. Her focus turned inwards with the release of The Year of Magical Thinking, written by Didion in 88 days (she remarks the book “simply wrote itself”) which chronicled the first year since the death of her husband. The book won the National Book Award in 2005 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, taking Didion to new heights of esteem. 

Style-wise, Didion has been applauded for her elegant and reserved dress sense, with her boxy shifts and loose, un-styled hair. She suffered from migraines and regularly donned a pair of dark shades, which feature in the Juergen Teller-shot Céline ad campaign – now a pair of her tortoiseshell shades are up for grabs in the auction. Elsewhere in the sale are a selection of photographs of Joan Didion by Brigitte Lacombe, Annie Leibovitz, Mary Ellen Mark and Julian Wasser, who lensed the seminal, stylish 1968 portraits of the American writer, smoking in front of her Corvette Stingray. Furnishings and decorations from Didion’s Upper East Side apartment include a large partner’s desk from California, a late Regency Pembroke table, an American writing desk, silver, porcelain and collectibles amassed by the Didion-Dunnes on their travels, and objects gifted to them by artists and writers. 

“We are thrilled to be offering property from the collection of Joan Didion at auction. It is an honour to be in the home where one of America’s great writers lived and worked, and to curate a sale of her fine art and personal property,” says Colin Stair, president of New York gallery Stair. Proceeds from the sale will benefit patient care and research of Parkinson’s and other movement disorders at Columbia University, and the Sacramento Historical Society for the benefit of Sacramento City College scholarship for women in literature.

The auction catalogue is available online now, and the gallery exhibition opens November 4 at 549 Warren Street, Hudson, New York.