(AP) — During the first half of 1964, just months after her husband was assassinated, Jacqueline Kennedy sat for seven interviews with historian and family friend Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
They met at her home in Washington, D.C., where the former first lady discussed her marriage, her White House years, election-year campaigning and her husband’s thoughts about a second term.
The interview is part of what became the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s Oral History and, at Jacqueline Kennedy’s request, was kept sealed for an indefinite time. She died in 1994.
Now, with the 50th anniversary of her father’s inauguration coming next year, daughter Caroline Kennedy is allowing the conversations to be widely released.
In September 2011, Hyperion will publish the transcripts and release six and one half hours of audiotape, providing a new and extended opportunity to hear the famously breathy voice of Jacqueline Kennedy discuss topics she rarely touched upon in public. Caroline Kennedy will serve as editor and write an introduction for the book, currently untitled, and a historian will provide annotation. (Schlesinger, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, died in 2007.)
“My mother’s passion for history guided and informed her work in the White House,” Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Library Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday issued by Hyperion. “She believed in my father, his vision for America, and in the art of politics, and felt it was important to share her knowledge and excitement with future generations. It is a privilege for me to honor the memory of my parents by making this unique history available.”
According to Hyperion, the interviews will cover everything from early campaigns to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Jacqueline Kennedy’s role as first lady.
“In these conversations, Mrs. Kennedy shares revealing insights into the politics and personalities of the day,” Hyperion said in a statement.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who knew both Jacqueline Kennedy and Schlesinger, said the interviews might be as close as we’ll ever get to a memoir from the late first lady. She noted that Kennedy did cooperate with biographer William Manchester around the same time (Kennedy later reportedly forced Manchester to remove some passages about the family from his “The Death of a President”), but said that she was likely more candid with Schlesinger because he was a friend and because Kennedy knew she had control of the transcripts.
“The times I met Jackie, I found that she had an incredibly straightforward, analytical understanding of the family,” said Goodwin, whose husband, Richard Goodwin, was a speechwriter for President Kennedy. “So my guess is that these interviews are going to be really interesting. She probably felt freer talking to Arthur and I would expect the conversations were more freewheeling and insightful.”
Caroline Kennedy has published several books with Hyperion, including a collection of her mother’s favorite poems, and has worked for years with editor Gretchen Young, who acquired the book and audio and electronic rights. Kennedy’s literary representative, Washington attorney Robert Barnett, declined to discuss specific financial terms, but said there was no auction for the book. Proceeds will be shared with the Kennedy library foundation, based in Boston.
“These interviews offer a remarkable window into the intelligent, courageous and keen observer that Jacqueline Kennedy was,” Hyperion president and publisher Ellen Archer said in a statement. “Readers will be riveted.”
The interviews are a key part of the library’s planned celebration of the anniversary of the Kennedy inaugural. Other materials expected to be made public include “memos and correspondence from the White House relating to Mrs. Kennedy’s White House restoration project, White House entertaining, travels abroad, relationship with the press and historic preservation.”