Skip to main content


Jan Karon papers

Identifier: MSS 16077

Scope and Contents Note

The Jan Karon papers (66 cubic feet; 1918-2018) contain Mitford book typescripts and galleys; materials related to Ms. Karon's publishing career and her relationship with her agent and publisher; letters and fan mail from readers, arranged by month and year only; memorabilia; professional and personal correspondence; reviews and press publicity; research related to Karon's novels; files related to charitable organizations and boards; architectural drawings of Esmont Farm; files and journals related to the purchase, restoration, and running of historic Esmont Farm, Albemarle County, Virginia, by Karon; personal and family papers; files pertaining to Jan Karon’s advertising career, particularly the North Carolina tourism campaign for McKinney and Silver; photographs; artifacts; audiovisual material; and born-digital material, including disks and hard drives.


  • Creation: 1918-2018
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1964 - 2018


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Note

Jan Karon was born on March 14, 1937 in Lenoir, North Carolina, to Robert Cecil Wilson (1914-1977) and Wanda Lee Wilson (1921- ) and was named Janice Meredith after the title of a popular novel. She and her younger sister, Brenda, lived as children with her grandparents, Monroe Ivy Cloer and Fannie Bush Cloer, on their farm outside Hudson, North Carolina. Both sisters later moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to join their mother who had married Toby Setzer, the owner of a hosiery knitting business.

At fourteen, Karon married Robert Bryan Freeland (1932-1995) in Charlotte and had one daughter, Candace Rae Freeland, in 1952. Her advertising career began at the age of eighteen, at Walter J. Klein Company, one of the first advertising agencies in the region.

Karon’s marriage to Robert Freeland ended in divorce and in her early twenties, Karon married a Duke Power chemist, Bill Orth, and became active in the Charlotte Little Theater, the Mint Museum Drama Guild, and in local social and political issues. She was one of four white women who marched in an early civil rights protest, led by the Reverend Sydney Freeman, along Charlotte’s North Tyron Street.

During the late sixties, she and Orth divorced. Karon then married Arthur Karon, a clothing salesman who moved the family to Berkeley, California, where they lived for three years.

After their marriage ended, Karon returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, and begun working again in advertising. Her dismissal from a Charlotte TV production company in 1982 precipitated what she called the ‘proverbial dark night of the soul.’ Karon returned to the faith taught her as a child by her grandmother. She began attending Charlotte’s interdenominational Calvary Church, and worked as a free-lance copywriter until her move to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1983, where she joined McKinney and Silver, an internationally renowned advertising firm.

She became an award- winning creative vice-president at McKinney, working on cruise line and airline accounts. There she won, with art director Michael Winslow, the coveted Steven E. Kelly Award, the print advertising equivalent of the Academy Award. Semi-finalists included British Airways, Harley-Davidson, and Waterford Crystal.

Her daughter, Candace Freeland, pursued photojournalism, winning numerous awards with the "Miami Herald", the "Charlotte Observer", and a stint in Central America for the "U.S. News and World Report".

In order to pursue her dream of writing a novel, Karon left her advertising career and, at age fifty, bought a house in the small mountain town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, where she supported her dream with freelance advertising work.

Soon, she approached the editor of "The Blowing Rocket" with a couple of chapters featuring an Episcopal priest named Tim Kavanagh, which he urged her to run in "The Blowing Rocket". The ensuing two years of writing the priest’s story for "The Blowing Rocket" resulted in her first novel, "At Home in Mitford", published in paper by a small publishing house in the Midwest. Twenty years after its initial release in paper, the novel appeared in its 85th printing, in a new, 20th anniversary hardcover edition, from Penguin-Random House, the world’s largest trade publisher.

The second and third Mitford novels, "A Light in the Window" and "These High Green Hills", were published by the same house, with limited marketing and distribution. Karon took the promotion of her books into her own hands, cold-selling them to bookstores and befriending bookstore owners. In Raleigh, bookseller Nancy Olson of Quail Ridge Books, was given a copy of "At Home in Mitford" by Mary Richardson, Karon’s Raleigh neighbor and friend. Olson admired the work and in 1996 introduced Karon to literary agent Liz Darhansoff. Darhansoff showed the Karon books to Carolyn Carlson at Penguin, and a long and fruitful relationship began. At this writing (2016), Karon has published twenty-two works of fiction and non-fiction, with sales estimated at more than 40 million, not including foreign sales in nineteen countries. Karon is currently published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin-Random House; her editor is Christine Pepe.

Jan Karon has won much recognition for her work. Among these are three nominations by the American Booksellers Association of "At Home in Mitford" for Best Book of the Year for three consecutive years (1996-1998) – a one-time-only occurrence in the Association’s history to date.

In 2013, "Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good", which spent seventeen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, was given the Library of Virginia’s Best Fiction of the Year award. In 2015, Karon received The Library of Virginia’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And in 2016, "Come Rain or Come Shine" debuting at #1 on the "New York Times" list, was the recipient of the 2016 Christy Award. A further recognition is the designation of Jan Karon as a lay Canon for the Arts in the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy. For more information about honors and awards, see box 44 of this collection.

For more information about Jan Karon and her books, see the publicity – press files in boxes 55-56 of this collection, a long article in "The Charlotte Observer", August 14, 2005, her facebook page and website , as well as her Wikipedia entry:


66 Cubic Feet (120 legal document boxes, 3 oversize boxes, 17 oversize folders) : 17 audio cassettes, 26 videocassettes, 46 disks, and 2 hard drives.

Language of Materials



The Jan Karon papers are organized into eight series. Series I consists of manuscripts and book related material, including illustrations, book jackets and covers, reviews, editorial files, radio plays, stage plays, page proofs, and galleys (Boxes 1-26 and Oversize boxes 1, 3). Series II consists of reader mail from fans (Boxes 27-43).

Series III contains the professional correspondence and papers of Jan Karon concerning the publication of her books, including files with publishers, arrangements and publicity for public appearances, press clippings, and interviews (Boxes 44-59, oversize folder 17 and oversize boxes 1 and 3).

Series IV consists of personal and family papers and is further separated into two subseries,subseries A: personal and family correspondence (Boxes 59-83), including greeting cards and invitations, with frequent correspondents having an individual folder and subseries B: personal papers of Jan Karon, including calendar diaries, journals, personal notes, and related material (Boxes 84-86 and Oversize box 3).

Series V includes materials relating to her advertising career, including the North Carolina tourism campaign (Boxes 87-90 and Oversize box 1).

Series VI contains topical files, including organizations, newsletters, travel files, Mitford general files, and research files Boxes 90-100).

Series VII consists of records about the purchase and restoration of her historic home "Esmont" in Ablemarle County, Virginia, including architectural drawings in Subseries A (Oversize folders 1-16 and Oversize boxes 2-3) and papers and photographs in Subseries B (Boxes 101-113).

Series VIII comprises the last series and consists of artifacts, miscellany, audiovisual and born-digital material (Boxes 114-120). This series is arranged in four subseries: Subseries A: Artifacts, chiefly concerning the Second International Mitford Homecoming; Subseries B: Albums and Volumes;Subseries C: Books Influential in the Life of Jan Karon; and Subseries D: Audiovisual and Born Digital Material.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

There are two hard drives in this collection that are currently unavailable.

Please contact Special Collections via our online form,, to request access. Please allow for a minimum of two weeks to process this request.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Jan Karon papers were given to the University of Virginia Library on October 2, 2014, by Jan Karon.

Jan Karon papers
Sharon Defibaugh and Lily Davis
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States