In recent months, three books on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-1994) have been published, all of them focused on her relationship to reading and writing. Her estimation of literature opens Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: “If you produce one book, you will have done something wonderful in your life.” Written by Greg Lawrence and published this week by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, this biographical treatment’s focus is her later-in-life career as an editor at two major publishing houses. Lawrence frames her legacy as more than just First Lady: “Whatever else she may have been during her lifetime—tragic heroine, elusive sphinx, reluctant icon—Jackie also distinguished herself as an intensely dedicated career woman who left behind an impressive legacy of books.” Charting Kennedy Onassis’ “third act,” as a “Renaissance woman grounded by her professional endeavors,” Lawrence also gives his personal and professional impressions of her, from his perspective of their author/editor relationship.
William Kuhn similarly concentrates on her editorial career in Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, released in December 2010 by the Nan A. Talese imprint of Doubleday. Both this book and Jackie as Editor recount Kennedy Onassis’ decision to leave Viking for Doubleday, after Viking published a fictional book about an attempted assassination of a character modeled on Senator Edward Kennedy. Kuhn examines Kennedy Onassis’ wrestling with herself as a writer, exemplified in a 1975 unsigned piece in The New Yorker and introductions to some of the books she edited. He writes that “[t]his slightly offbeat Jackie… scribbling in the white space along the edges of a manuscript is the Jackie we know when we understand that first and foremost she was a reader.” Kuhn emphasizes the books she read, contending that her taste in literature forms her autobiography, from Gone with the Wind to French history.
Finally, from St. Martin’s Press, published in October 2010, is Dear Mrs. Kennedy, The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis. It offers a look at some of the hundreds of thousands of letters sent to her in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, as “the collective grief of millions focused on a single person.” The book includes reproductions of handwritten letters and telegrams from friends and family; politicians and their wives, such as Richard Nixon, Donald Rumsfeld, Strom Thurmond, and “General et Madame de Gaulle”; celebrities, including Noël Coward, Josephine Baker, Oleg Cassini, and Ezra Pound; as well as many notable Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr., Supreme Court justices, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Reverend Billy Graham. Dear Mrs. Kennedy attempts to contextualize the assassination by including condolence letters from average Americans as well: “[P]eople wrote to make sense of something that made no sense. Together, the letters form an immense chorus: a hymn of homage, longing, and grief.”