‘Reader Beware’: Katherine Dunn at Lewis & Clark

Lewis & Clark College Special Collections and Archives is now pleased to announce the acquisition of the Katherine Dunn Literary Collection and Archive.


Katherine Dunn, an award-winning author, poet, and journalist, is best known for her highly praised novel Geek Love, first published in 1989. A National Book Award finalist, Geek Love propelled Dunn to cult-figure status and amassed a remarkable fan base for its odd characters and highly imaginative story of the Binewski family carnival. At the time of publication, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, “This audacious, mesmerizing novel should carry a warning: ‘Reader Beware.’ Those entering the world of [its] carnival freaks… will find no escape from a story at once engrossing and repellent, funny and terrifying, unreal and true to human nature.”

Lewis & Clark College Special Collections and Archives is now pleased to announce the acquisition of the Katherine Dunn Literary Collection and Archive. Dunn, a supporter of Lewis & Clark and Watzek Library, formed important relationships with staff when the college presented the exhibition Exploring Katherine Dunn in Print in 2009. Later, in 2015, Lewis & Clark worked with Dunn to acquire the collection Dunn kept at her Northwest Portland home. Special Collections staff—along with a number of student employees—worked to process, arrange, and catalog the collection. Dunn eagerly aided in the identification of its material and helped provide context and history for many of its unusual ephemera pieces. Unfortunately, before the collection could be made available, Dunn passed away on May 11, 2016, at age 70, from complications of lung cancer.

The Dunn collection includes handwritten and typed manuscript versions for all three of her published novels, including Attic (1970), Truck (1971), and Geek Love (1989), which in itself includes a half-dozen different edited versions. Other literary material includes research notes, drafts, and publication copies of her fiction as well as her journalism pieces and essays on topics ranging from popular culture, art, and boxing to celebrities Courtney Love and Joe Frazier.

The collection also includes correspondence with other noted authors, including Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and Gus Van Sant. Additional and more unusual material in the collection includes fan art and ephemeral material related to the Geek Love frenzy, as well as stage adaptations and screenplays of the novel by others.

For Lewis & Clark, Dunn’s material represents an important addition to its Northwest literary collections, which include the papers of Matterhorn (2009) author Karl Marlantes as well as those of nationally recognized and award-winning poets Paulann Petersen, Vern Rutsala, and William Stafford. As a teaching and research collection, Dunn’s papers present a unique opportunity for those wanting to learn more about Dunn’s work or to study the writing process of a contemporary author through examination of the creator’s primary source material. By compiling the collection, the college hopes others will continue to learn from, enjoy, and explore the world of Katherine Dunn and her writing.

Unveiling the Collection

Lewis & Clark College is honored to be home to the Katherine Dunn Literary Collection and Archive, recognizing both Dunn as an important and influential writer and her novel Geek Love as a landmark text in the pop-culture and literary worlds. Special Collections will open the Dunn collection to all researchers later this fall. An exhibition drawing from material in the collection is planned for spring 2017 in Watzek Library.

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