Skip to main content

Karen Durbin Papers

Identifier: SC24

Collection Scope and Content Summary

This collection contains the personal and professional materials of Karen Durbin, created between 1929 to 2016, and represents her work as a feminist, writer, editor, film critic, teacher, and figure in the journalism community. Durbin’s work and life are represented in a wide variety of formats, including journals, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, research and drafts, recorded and transcribed interviews, published articles, and ephemera from events.

Series 1, Professional life, spans the years 1964-2016. This series documents Karen Durbin’s work as a film critic, her teaching, and her committee service and memberships. Most of Durbin’s published writing present in this series is for Elle, Mirabella, Mademoiselle, or The New York Times. This series includes interview transcripts; recordings of some of these interviews can be found in Series 5. Durbin’s drafts and research reveal her research methods and references, including annotated articles on issues surrounding gender, sexuality, body positivity/acceptance, and self-help. The Professional life series also includes published writing and drafts from Durbin’s early career, such as writing produced as an intern for the Indianapolis Times, as well as syllabi and assignments pertaining to her teaching work at Columbia School of Journalism. The series includes a significant number of press passes to various events between the years 1975-2016, such as Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, and New York Film Festival.

Series 2, Village Voice, contains materials created during Durbin’s time at The Village Voice as Staff Writer, Senior Editor, Arts Editor, and Editor-in-Chief, spanning 1975-2002. The years that Durbin served as editor-in-chief for the newspaper (1994-1996) are well documented not only through the preserved press coverage and correspondence regarding Durbin’s work, but also through meeting notes, budgets, and staffing files. Major moments in the history of The Voice documented in the collection include staff unionization (1977), Leonard Stern’s purchase of The Voice (1987), and Free Village Voice (1996)–the newspaper's switch from a paid weekly to a free, alternative weekly. Many of the records in the series are produced by or include Village Voice contributors or executives, such as David Schneiderman, Ellen Willis, Karen Cook, Stan Mack, Nat Hentoff, Clay Felker, Leonard Stern, and Lee Smith.

Series 3, Personal life, is the most heterogeneous series in this collection. This series consists of Karen Durbin’s life and work beyond her professional endeavors, and is organized into five subseries: Education, Photographs, Writing and Journals, Ephemera and Memorabilia, and Books. The Education subseries includes yearbooks, certificates, awards, and programs from her time at Short Ridge High School and Bryn Mawr College. The Photographs subseries holds photos spanning 1929-2010 of friends, family, and Durbin herself. Writing and Journals is the most expansive subseries within the Personal life series, and includes Durbin’s personal writing from childhood to adulthood in varying levels of completion. A large amount of this writing can be seen in a collection of journals and notebooks. The Ephemera and Memorabilia subseries includes materials such as pamphlets, artwork, and works from other writers. The books included in this collection are signed with personal notes to Durbin. This series contains several descriptions of sexual assault as well as the usage of racist language. These materials are found primarily in boxes 27, 28, and 30.

Series 4, Correspondence, contains multiple forms of correspondence between Durbin and a wide variety of people and organizations. Some of the materials represented include postcards; holiday cards; invitations; and letters from readers, family, and friends. There is a significant amount of communication from her time spent in London in the 1970s, as well as with her artistic peers throughout her career.

Series 5, Audiovisual and born-digital materials, contains all of the audiovisual and most of the born-digital materials (apart from one floppy disk, which was grouped with Series 2 Village Voice, Subseries 2) in Karen Durbin papers, and represents the years 1989-2014. This includes audiocassettes with film-related interviews and music (notably from American vocal trio of sisters, The Roches, who are personal friends of Durbin’s), one hard drive, CDs, VHS tapes (mostly taped events that Durbin took part in), and floppy disks. The floppy disks contain both personal and professional writing.


  • Creation: 1929 - 2016
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970 - 2000


This collection has no restrictions.

Publication Rights

Karen Durbin retains all copyrights which she already controlled in the collection prior to its donation; permission to reproduce from these materials beyond the allowances of fair use exemptions to copyright must be secured from Cynthia Carr and Lynn Holst.

Material which Durbin produced for hire, including published articles and interview recordings, is likely owned by the institutions and organizations that commissioned the work, including but not limited to The Village Voice, Mirabella, Elle, Ms. magazine, or the New York Times. Barnard also does not hold the copyright to materials in the collection not created by Durbin (letters, music, artwork, etc.). Researchers are responsible for securing permission of copyright holders before reproducing such materials.

Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard Archives and Special Collections.

Reproduction Restrictions

Photocopies or scans may be made for research purposes.


Karen Durbin is an American journalist and news editor based in New York, best known for her work with The Village Voice. Durbin wrote and published consistently on film, arts, and feminist issues from the late 1960s until the mid-2010s. In addition to her work with The Voice, Durbin is also known for her contributions as editor and writer for publications such as Mirabella, Mademoiselle, Elle, The New York Times, and others.

Karen Lee Durbin was born August 28, 1944 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Violet and Charles Durbin. Durbin grew up in a conservative family and lived on a farm until she was 12. She attended high school in Indianapolis (class of 1962), and went on to study at Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in English. Durbin was first exposed to professional journalism at age 19, as an intern for the now defunct Indianapolis Times. After graduating in 1966, Durbin moved to New York, and worked as an editorial assistant for The New Yorker. During her time as an editorial assistant, Durbin met her close friend and peer, Ellen Willis, a founding member of Redstockings feminist collective. Attending Redstockings meetings exposed Durbin to the political ideologies of radical feminism, civil rights, and anti-war movements (she would go on to serve on the editorial board for Win Magazine). Prior to Durbin’s involvement with The Village Voice, she worked as an Information Officer at New York City’s Environmental Protection Administration.

Durbin first began writing for The Village Voice in 1972 with the debut article “Casualties of the Sex War,” which was picked up by editor of Mademoiselle, who approached Durbin to cover feminist issues for the women’s magazine. Durbin would go on to have her own feminist column at Mademoiselle, “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Sex.” Durbin returned to the Village Voice as a full-time staff writer in 1974, covering a range of feminist issues and film criticism. In 1975, she toured with the American rock and roll band the Rolling Stones and penned an article about lead singer and guitarist Mick Jagger. Durbin’s 1976 cover story “On Being a Woman Alone” remains one of the publication’s most notable personal essays. She wrote and edited for The Voice regularly for the next fifteen years, after which she assumed the role of Arts and Entertainment Editor of Mirabella from 1989 until 1994. In 1994 Karen Durbin returned to The Village Voice as Editor-in-Chief. During the 1990s Durbin was also involved with journalism pedagogy, teaching classes at Columbia Journalism School, and actively taking part in other university affairs, such as panels, committees, and guest lectures. She resigned as editor of Village Voice in 1996, and continued to regularly contribute film and culture criticism for Mirabella, Elle (as the publication’s first film critic), and the New York Times Arts section, and was a member of New York Film Critics Circle.


25.51 Linear Feet (39 document boxes, 2 record cartons, 3 oversized flat boxes, 2 flat audiocassette boxes)

42.881 Gigabytes (56 floppy disks (1.44 MB each), 1 hard drive (40 GB), 4 CDs (700 MB each))




Karen Durbin is a journalist and film critic based in New York. Durbin is best known for her work with the Village Voice, where she has served as staff writer, senior editor, arts editor, and editor-in-chief. Her writing spans decades and reflects her position as a radical feminist in the second and third waves of the movement. This collection documents Durbin’s professional and personal life through correspondence, journals and calendars, photographs, writing, and administrative work materials representing the years 1929 to 2016.

Collection Arrangement

The collection is arranged into five series, which represent the broad categories in which Durbin’s materials were organized when they arrived at the archive. While the materials remain in the order in which we received them, sub-series have been created for organizational purposes and to increase accessibility. Each series and sub-series is arranged by box number. Exceptions to this are Subseries 1.1, where materials are arranged by publication, and Series 5, which maintains the original order of the materials as they were received.

Series 1, Professional life

Subseries 1.1, Published writing
Subseries 1.2, Drafts, transcripts, and research
Subseries 1.3, Teaching materials
Subseries 1.4, Events and Committees

Series 2, Work with Village Voice

Subseries 2.1, Administrative files, staffing, and correspondence
Subseries 2.2, Editorial materials, research files, and notes
Subseries 2.3, Village Voice Union
Subseries 2.4, Clippings, memorabilia, and press

Series 3, Personal life

Subseries 3.1, Education
Subseries 3.2, Photographs
Subseries 3.3, Writing and Journals
Subseries 3.4, Ephemera and memorabilia
Subseries 3.5, Books

Series 4, Correspondence

Series 5, Audiovisual and born-digital material

Subseries 5.1, Hard Drives
Subseries 5.2, Floppy disks
Subseries 5.3, CDs
Subseries 5.4, Cassette Tapes
Subseries 5.5, VHS

Physical Location

This collection is located in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library. To use this collection, please contact the Barnard Archives and Special Collections at 212.854.4079 or

Acquisition Information

Donated by Cynthia Carr and Lynn Holst on behalf of Karen Durbin in 2018.


Archivists removed a number of materials that were deemed out of scope, sensitive, or otherwise publicly accessible. Durbin possessed a large collection of newspapers and magazines which have been removed due to their availability outside of the collection, including: Redstockings, Institute of Current World Affairs, Woman’s World, Chrysalis, Newsweek, The Real World, Caught Looking, Feministive Revolution, The New Yorker, and More Magazine. Other deaccessioned materials include: published books without notes or inscriptions, audio records, and periodicals; documents with personal identifiable information; yearbooks; business cards; student work submitted to Durbin at Columbia; application materials sent to be reviewed by Durbin or The Village Voice; newspaper clippings; and duplicate materials.


No accruals are expected.

Processing History

After being transferred to the archive, the collection was accessioned, rehoused, and inventoried by Maat Bates and Kaya Alim in 2019. The collection was surveyed, processed, and the finding aid written by Adia Augustin and Olivija Liepa from November 2023-February 2024. Finding aid adheres to descriptive rules prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard.

Guide to the Karen Durbin papers
Adia Augustin, Olivija Liepa
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Repository

3009 Broadway
New York NY 10027 United States