When Joan Didion was 28 she lived in a monastic four-room apartment on 75th street in New York, furnished with nothing except a cheap double mattress, two French garden chairs and 50 yards of yellow silk hung across the bedroom windows. It was the beginning of the end for that phase of her life in New York. Soon after she would get married, return to California and go on to live in a series of homes that would feature prominently in the mythology of Joan Didion – the large house on Franklin Avenue where Janis Joplin came to a party; the Malibu beach house where so many iconic photographs of the writer and her family were taken.
But the home where Didion lived for the last 30 years of her life, where her husband John Gregory Dunne died, was back in New York, on East 70th Street, just blocks away from that empty apartment from her twenties, although this one was significantly more furnished. It was here where she wrote two books including The Year of Magical Thinking and where she was filmed for the 2017 Netflix documentary, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne. And it is this apartment that is now up for sale, following November’s estate auction of her belongings which saw her Céline sunglasses sell for $27,000.
The apartment hit the market this week, listed for a cool $7.5 million. Bought by Didion and Dunne in 1988, it was built in 1928 and features 11 rooms: four bedrooms, four and a half baths, a library attached to the living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a kitchen with a professional-grade stove and miles of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. According to Curbed, when the Didion-Dunnes bought the apartment the price had been slashed four times due to the Wall Street crash the previous year. Buyers this time around won’t be so lucky – it seems Didion’s icon status has sent the price skyward, since a similar three-bedroom apartment in the building is listed for $4.5 million.
Widely influential to both her contemporaries and the generations of writers who followed, Didion’s intelligence, cool wit and clean, precise prose left an everlasting impact on the literary world. This week, it was also announced that her literary archive, alongside Dunne’s, has been acquired by the New York Public Library. Containing 240 feet of material, the archive features letters, photographs, manuscripts, family records, datebooks, recipes and more. In one letter written to her parents in 1957, Didion describes the “dull and tedious” work at Vogue and says she wants to quit.
It will take an estimated two years, the library says, to process the collection. At that point, the archive will become available to historians, scholars, researchers and anyone else with a library card.