Writer Joan Didion's possessions sell for eye-popping prices at auction The late author Joan Didion was an exemplar of the New Journalism of the 1960s. Many fans traveled to Hudson, N.Y., to see some of her possessions up for auction. A pair of sunglass fetched $27,000.

Writer Joan Didion's possessions sell for eye-popping prices at auction

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Joan Didion was one of the most influential writers of her time, and when she died last December, she left behind a lengthy catalog of essays, novels and screenplays. This morning, her estate will auction off some of the possessions from her New York City apartment. Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Literary fame is fickle. A bestselling author in one decade can be out of print the next. But since she first began publishing in the 1960s, Joan Didion's popularity has only seemed to grow, says Kelly Burdick, executive editor of the literary magazine Lapham's Quarterly.

KELLY BURDICK: There are a lot of amazing writers from that period, but Didion seems to be the one that has really persisted. People carry around tote bags in New York City with Joan Didion's face on it.

ZARROLI: Burdick showed up recently at Stair Galleries in Hudson, N.Y., which is holding an online auction of her possessions today. The turnout has been impressive. One recent Saturday, more than a thousand people stopped by to see and touch Didion's things. Lisa Thomas is the gallery's director of fine arts. She says many of the people showing up are young.

LISA THOMAS: Twenty- and 30-somethings who are really interested in what was happening culturally, artistically in the late '60s and '70s - they're all interested in her, and they're all reading her anew.

ZARROLI: There are people such as Amy Zimmerman (ph), who calls Didion a genius.

AMY ZIMMERMAN: If you read, like, on a sentence level, you can't help but be kind of blown away by the mastery. I don't think you can say a bad thing about Joan Didion's writing.

ZARROLI: For her fans, part of the fascination lies in Didion herself. As one of the so-called new journalists of the '60s, Didion put herself and her reactions to events into her writing in a way that eschewed traditional notions of objectivity. Her persona was waiflike and neurotic, plagued by migraines and dread, and yet so very incisive. Didion wrote an essay about keeping a notebook to store ideas as seed corn for future writing. She read from it in the documentary "The Center Cannot Hold (ph)."


JOAN DIDION: On that bankrupt morning, I will simply open my notebook, and there it will be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there.

ZARROLI: At the gallery, fans can bid on empty journals she never got around to filling. Here, too, are cookbooks and flatware. On the page, Didion may have seemed shy and reclusive, but she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, were very social. There are signed prints from friends, such as artists Jennifer Bartlett and Ed Ruscha. And here is the drop-leaf table where Dunne was sitting when he had a fatal heart attack.


DIDION: We sat down. My attention was on mixing the salad. John was talking, then he wasn't.

ZARROLI: Most of the items on display here - the paperweights and discarded eyeglasses, the electric typewriters and hurricane lamps - aren't inherently worth much, but for Didion's fans, they have a totemic value.

ELLIE REED: It's so incredible to be in this space to see it all. Just being here is goosebump inducing.

ZARROLI: Ellie Reed (ph) took the day off from work to come here. As a teenager, she first picked up Didion's book about Miami and felt an immediate connection.

REED: I have all of her books, and there's a couple that I leave one chapter unread because I don't want to finish reading her, and there's not going to be anything else after that.

ZARROLI: Reed didn't want to say which items she's interested in, afraid someone would outbid her. She'll find out later this morning when the auction gets underway. The proceeds will go to Parkinson's research and the Sacramento Historical Society.

For NPR News, this is Jim Zarroli.


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