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Joan Didion

Joan Didion (/ˈdɪdiən/; born December 5, 1934) is an American


Joan Didion
journalist and writer of novels, screenplays, and autobiographical
works. Didion is best known for her literary journalism and
memoirs. In her novels and essays, Didion explores the
disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos; the
overriding theme of her work is individual and social
fragmentation.[2]

At the peak of Didion's career, her writing was recognized for its
significance in defining and observing American subcultures for
mainstream audiences. In 1968, The New York Times referred to
her early work as containing "grace, sophistication, nuance, [and]
irony."[3] In 2005, she won the National Book Award for
Didion at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival
Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics
Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography
Born December 5, 1934
Sacramento, California, U.S.
for The Year of Magical Thinking. She later adapted the book into
a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007. Occupation Novelist · memoirist · essayist
Nationality American
In 2017, Didion was profiled in the Netflix documentary The
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephewGriffin Dunne.[4]
Period 1963–present
Subject Memoir · drama
Literary New Journalism[1]
Contents movement
Notable Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
Early life and education works
Career Play It As It Lays (1970)
Professional life The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
Personal life Spouse John Gregory Dunne
Writing style (m. 1964; died 2003)
New Journalism Children 1
Writing style and themes
Awards and honours
Bibliography
Fiction
Nonfiction
Screenplays
Plays
References
Further reading
External links

Early life and education


Joan Didion was born on December 5, 1934, in Sacramento, California,[5] to Frank Reese and Eduene (née Jerrett) Didion. Didion
recalls writing things down as early as age five, though she claims she never saw herself as a writer until after her work had been
published. She read everything she could get her hands on, and even needed written permission from her mother to borrow "adult"
books—biographies especially—from the library at a young age. She identified as a "shy, bookish child" who pushed herself to
[5]
overcome social anxiety through acting and public speaking.

Didion attended kindergarten and first grade, but because her father was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and her family
was constantly relocated, she did not attend school on a regular basis. In 1943 or early 1944, her family returned to Sacramento, and
her father went to Detroit to negotiate defense contracts for World War II. Didion wrote in her 2003 memoir Where I Was From that
.[5]
moving so often made her feel like a perpetual outsider

In 1956, Didion graduated from theUniversity of California, Berkeleywith a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.[6] During her senior
year, she won first place in the "Prix de Paris"[7] essay contest sponsored by Vogue, and was awarded a job as a research assistant at
the magazine, having written a story on the San Francisco architectWilliam Wilson Wurster.[8][9]

Career

Professional life
During her seven years at Vogue, Didion worked her way up from promotional copywriter to associate feature editor.[7] While there,
and homesick for California, she wrote her first novel, Run, River, which was published in 1963. Writer and friend John Gregory
Dunne helped her edit the book, and the two moved into an apartment together. A year later they married, and Didion returned to
California with her new husband. In 1968, she published her first work of nonfiction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of
[2][9]
magazine pieces about her experiences in California.

Her novel Play It As It Lays, set in Hollywood, was published in 1970, andA Book of Common Prayerappeared in 1977. In 1979, she
published The White Album, another collection of magazine pieces that had previously appeared in Life, Esquire, The Saturday
Evening Post, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.

Her book-length essay Salvador (1983) was written after a two-week-long trip to El Salvador with her husband. The following year,
she published the novel Democracy, which narrates the story of a long but unrequited love affair between a wealthy heiress and an
older man, a CIA officer, against the background of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict. Her 1987 nonfiction book Miami looked
at the Cuban expatriate community in that city. In 1992, she published After Henry, a collection of twelve geographical essays and a
personal memorial for Henry Robbins, who was Didion's friend and editor from 1966 until he died in 1979. In 1996, she published
The Last Thing He Wanted, a romantic thriller.

Dunne and Didion worked closely together for most of their careers. Much of their writing is therefore intertwined. The two co-wrote
a number of screenplays, including a 1972 film adaptation of her novel Play It As It Lays that starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday
Weld. The couple also spent eight years adapting the biography of journalistJessica Savitch into the film Up Close & Personal.

Didion began writing The Year of Magical Thinking, a narrative of her response to the death of her husband and severe illness of their
daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, on October 4, 2004, and finished the manuscript 88 days later on New Year's Eve.[10] She
went on a book tour following the book's release, doing many readings and promotional interviews, and has said she found the
[11]
process very therapeutic during her period of mourning.

In 2006, Everyman's Library published We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, a compendium of much of Didion's writing,
including the full content of her first seven published nonfiction books (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Salvador,
Miami, After Henry, Political Fictions, and Where I Was From), with an introduction by her contemporary,the critic John Leonard.

In 2007, she began working on a one-woman stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking. Produced by Scott Rudin, the
Broadway play featured Vanessa Redgrave. Although she was at first hesitant about writing for the theatre, she has since found the
genre, which was new to her, to be quite exciting.[11]
Didion has written early drafts of the screenplay for an HBO biopic directed by Robert Benton on The Washington Post publisher
Katharine Graham. It remains untitled. Sources say it may trace the paper's dogged reportage on the Watergate scandal which led to
President Richard Nixon's resignation.[12] As of 2009, Didion was no longer working on the project.
[13]

In 2011, Knopf published Blue Nights, a memoir about aging.[14] The book focuses on Didion's daughter, who died just before The
Year of Magical Thinkingwas published. It addresses their relationship with "stunning frankness."[15] More generally, the book deals
[16][17]
with the anxieties Didion experienced about adopting and raising a child, and also about the aging process.

A photo of Didion shot by Juergen Teller was used as part of the Spring/Summer 2015 campaign of the luxury French brand
Céline.[18]

Personal life
While in New York and working at Vogue, Didion met John Gregory Dunne, her future husband, who at the time was writing for
Time. He was the younger brother of author, businessman and television mystery show host Dominick Dunne. The couple married in
1964 and moved to Los Angeles with intentions of staying only temporarily, but California ultimately became their home for the next
[19]
twenty years. Their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne was adopted in 1966.

In the title essay of The White Album, Didion documents a nervous breakdown she experienced in the summer of 1968. After
undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, she was diagnosed as having had an attack of vertigo and nausea. She was also diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis.[20]

In 1979, Didion was living in Brentwood Park, California, a quiet, residential neighborhood of Los Angeles. Before her move to
Brentwood she lived in theHollywood/Los Feliz area on Franklin Ave, one block north of Hollywood Blvd.[21]

Two tragedies struck Didion in the space of less than two years. On December 30, 2003, while their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne
lay comatose in the ICU with septic shock resulting from pneumonia, her husband suffered a fatal heart attack while at the dinner
table. Didion put off his funeral arrangements for approximately three months until Quintana was well enough to attend the service.
Visiting Los Angeles after her father's funeral, Quintana fell at the airport, hit her head on pavement and suffered a massive
hematoma. She required six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center.[10] After making progress toward recovery in 2004,
Quintana died of acute pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, during Didion's New York promotion for The Year of Magical Thinking. She
was 39.[11] Didion later wrote about Quintana's death in the 201
1 book Blue Nights.

As of 2005, Didion was living in an apartment on East 71st Street in New York City.[10] Didion's nephew Griffin Dunne directed a
documentary about Didion titledJoan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold; it was released by Netflix on October 27, 2017.[22]

Writing style

New Journalism
New Journalism seeks to communicate facts through narrative storytelling and literary techniques. This style is also described as
creative nonfiction, intimate journalism, or literary nonfiction. It is a popular moment in the longer history of literary journalism in
America. Tom Wolfe, who along with E.W. Johnson edited the anthology The New Journalism (1973), and wrote a manifesto for the
style that popularized the term, pointed to the idea that "it is possible to write journalism that would ... read like a novel."[23] New
Journalist writers tend to turn away from "just the facts" and focus more upon the dialogue of the situation and the scenarios that the
author may have experienced. The style gives the author more creative freedom. This can help to represent the truth and reality
through the author's eyes. Exhibiting subjectivity is a major theme in New Journalism. Here, the author's voice is critical to a reader
[24]
forming opinions and thoughts concerning the work.
Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem exemplifies much of what New Journalism represents as it explores the cultural values and
experiences of American life in the 1960s. Didion includes her personal feelings and memories in this first person narrative,
describing the chaos of individuals and the way in which they perceive the world. Here Didion rejects conventional journalism, and
instead prefers to create a subjective approach to essays, a style that is her own.

Writing style and themes


In a notorious essay published in 1980 called "Joan Didion: Only Disconnect", Barbara Grizzuti Harrison called Didion a
"neurasthenic Cher" whose style was "a bag of tricks" and whose "subject is always herself."[25] The criticism from Harrison "still
gets her (Didion's) hackles up, decades later," New York Magazine reported in 2011.[26]

Didion views the structure of the sentence as essential to what she is conveying in her work. In The New York Times article, Why I
Write (1976)[27] Didion remarks, "To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly
as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed...The arrangement of the words matters, and the
arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind...The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement
[27]
of the words tells you, or tells me, what's going on in the picture."

Didion is heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway, whose writing taught Didion the importance of the way sentences work within a
text. Other influences include writerHenry James, who wrote "perfect, indirect, complicated sentences" andGeorge Eliot.[28]

Because of her belief that it is the media that tells us how to live, Joan Didion has become an observer of journalists themselves.[24]
She believes that the difference between the process of fiction and nonfiction is the element of discovery that takes place in
[28]
nonfiction. This happens not during the writing, but during the research.

There are rituals that are a part of Didion's creative thought process. At the end of the day, Didion must take a break from writing to
remove herself from the "pages".[28] She feels closeness to her work; without a necessary break, she cannot make proper adjustments.
Didion spends a great deal of time cutting out and editing her prose before concluding her evening. The next day, Didion begins by
looking over her work from the previous evening, making further adjustments as she sees fit. As this process culminates, Didion feels
that it is necessary to sleep in the same room as her book. In Didion's own words, "That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to
[28]
finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're right next to it."

Awards and honours


In 2002, Didion received theSt. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis UniversityLibrary Associates.[29][30]

Didion has received a great deal of recognition for The Year of Magical Thinking, which was awarded the National Book Award for
Nonfiction in 2005.[31] Documenting the grief she experienced following the sudden death of her husband, the book has been said to
[11]
be a "masterpiece of two genres: memoir and investigative journalism."

In 2007, Didion received the National Book Foundation's annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. From
the citation: "An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, her distinctive blend of spare,
elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of
generations of writers and journalists."[32] This same year, Didion also won the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of
America.[33]

In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University.[34] Yale University conferred another
honorary Doctor of Letters degree upon her in 2011.[35] On July 3, 2013, the White House announced Didion as one of the recipients
of the National Medal of Arts, to be presented by President Barack Obama.[36] In 2008, Didion had complained that under Obama
the U.S. had become "an irony-free zone".[37]

Bibliography
Fiction
Run, River (1963)
Play It as It Lays (1970)
A Book of Common Prayer(1977)
Democracy (1984)
The Last Thing He Wanted (1996)

Nonfiction
Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
The White Album (1979)
Salvador (1983)
Miami (1987)
After Henry (1992)
Political Fictions (2001)
Where I Was From (2003)
Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11(2003; preface by Frank Rich)
Vintage Didion (2004; selected excerpts of previous works)
The Year of Magical Thinking(2005)
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (2006; includes her first seven volumes of nonfiction)
Blue Nights (2011) ISBN 9780307267672
South and West: From a Notebook (2017) ISBN 9781524732790

Screenplays
The Panic in Needle Park(1971)
Play It as It Lays (1972) (based on her novel)
A Star Is Born (1976)
True Confessions (1981)
Up Close & Personal (1996)
As it Happens (2012) (with Todd Field) [38]

Plays
The Year of Magical Thinking(2007) (based on her novel)

References
1. Menand, Louis (2015-08-17)."The Radicalization of Joan Didion"(https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/2
4/out-of-bethlehem). The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X (https://www.worldcat.org/issn/0028-792X). Retrieved
2017-10-31. ""Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is a classic of what was later named the New Journalism."
2. "Joan Didion (1934-) (http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitCrit/jama62549/FJ3511650016) " in Jean C. Stine and
Daniel G. Marowski (eds.)Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985, pp. 142-150.
Accessed 10 April 2009.
3. Wakefield, Dan (June 21, 1968)."Places, People and Personalities"(https://www.nytimes.com/1968/06/21/books/didi
on-bethlehem.html). The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-11.
4. "Joan Didion is more interesting than the new Netflix documentary about her"
(https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/10/
25/16526428/joan-didion-documentary-center-will-not-hold-netflix)
. Vox. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
5. "Joan Didion Biography - Academy of Achievement"(https://web.archive.org/web/20161015194749/http://www .achie
vement.org/autodoc/page/did0bio-1). American Academy of Achievement. November 4, 2011. Archived fromthe
original (http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/did0bio-1) on October 15, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2013. "Joan
Didion was born in Sacramento, California. Didion spent most of her childhood in Sacramento, except for several
years during World War II, when she traveled across the county with her mother and brother to be near her father,
who served in a succession of posts as an of
ficer in the Army Air Corps."
6. Als, Hilton (Spring 2006)."Joan Didion, The Art of Nonfiction No. 1"(https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5601/j
oan-didion-the-art-of-nonfiction-no-1-joan-didion)
. The Paris Review. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
7. "Joan Didion - California Museum"(http://www.californiamuseum.org/inductee/joan-didion).
www.californiamuseum.org. Retrieved 2017-06-16.
8. "About Joan Didion" (http://www.thejoandidion.com/about/). TheJoanDidion.com. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
9. Kakutani, Michiko (1979-06-10)."Joan Didion: Staking Out California"(https://www.nytimes.com/1979/06/10/books/di
dion-calif.html). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331 (https://www.worldcat.org/issn/0362-4331). Retrieved
2017-06-16.
10. Jonathan Van Meter. "When Everything Changes(http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/books/14633/)
". New York
Magazine.
11. "Seeing Things Straight: Gibson Fay-Leblanc interviews Joan Didion(http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/146/s
eeing_things_straight/)Archived (https://web.archive.org/web/20060601005625/http://www.guernicamag.com/intervi
ews/146/seeing_things_straight/)2006-06-01 at the Wayback Machine.". Guernica, April 15, 2006.
12. Michael Fleming (November 14, 2008). "HBO sets Katharine Graham biopic"
13. "Joan-Didion.info "Biopic Abandoned" " (https://archive.is/20120712053902/http://joandidion.info/2009/01/29/biopic-i
n-limbo/). Archived from the original (http://joandidion.info/2009/01/29/biopic-in-limbo/)on 2012-07-12.
14. "Didion to release new book in 2011"(https://web.archive.org/web/20120307061336/http://joan-didion.info/2010/11/n
ew-didion-aging-memoir/). 7 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
15. "Blue Nights by Joan Didion"(http://knopfdoubleday.com/2011/11/01/blue-nights-by-joan-didion/). Knopf Doubleday.
Retrieved 2016-11-30.
16. "Details Emerge About "Blue Nights" " (https://web.archive.org/web/20120307061336/http://joan-didion.info/2011/03/
details-blue-nights/). 7 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
17. John Banville. "Joan Didion Mourns Her Daughter(https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/books/review/blue-nights-by
-joan-didion-book-review.html)". The New York Times, November 3, 2011.
18. Stebner, Beth (January 7, 2015)."Joan Didion stars in Céline Spring/Summer 2015 campaign"(http://m.nydailynews.
com/life-style/fashion/joan-didion-stars-celine-spring-summer-2015-campaign-article-1.2069335)
. NY Daily News.
19. Louis Menand. "Out of Bethlehem: The radicalization of Joan Didion(http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/2
4/out-of-bethlehem)" The New Yorker, August 24, 2015.
20. Gerrie, Anthea (September 21, 2007)."Interview: A stage version of Joan Didion's painfully honest account of her
husband's death comes to London"(https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/intervi
ew-a-stage-version-of-joan-didions-painfully-honest-account-of-her-husbands-death-comes-to-london-464494.html) .
The Independent. London.
21. "Joan Didion: Staking Out California(https://www.nytimes.com/1979/06/10/books/didion-calif.html?pagewanted=1)".
The New York Times, June 10, 1979.
22. "Review: A ‘Joan Didion’ Portrait, From an Intimate Source(https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/movies/joan-didion
-the-center-will-not-hold-review-griffin-dunne.html)". The New York Times, October 24, 2017.
23. A Masterpiece of Literary Journalism: Joan Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem - Feb. 2006,olume
V 3, No.2
(Serial No. 26), Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN 1539-8072 (https://www.worldcat.org/search?fq=x0:jrnl&q=n2:1539-
8072), USA
24. Sandra Braman. "Joan Didion (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~despey/didion.htm)".
25. Harrison, Barbara Grizzutti (1980) "Joan Didion: Only Disconnect" inOff Center: Essays. New York: The Dial Press.
The essay can be read online at"Joan Didion: Disconnect."(http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/103/didion-per-ha
rrison.html) (Retrieved 10-16-2014).
26. Kachka, Boris (October 16, 2011)“'I Was No Longer Afraid to Die. I Was Now Afraid Not to Die.'”(http://nymag.com/
arts/books/features/joan-didion-2011-10/index2.html)New York Magazine. (Retrieved 10-16-2014.)
27. Why I Write by Joan Didion, New York Times (1857-Current file); Dec 5,1976; ProQest Historical Newspapers The
New York Times (1851-2005) pg. 270
28. "The Art of Fiction No. 71: Joan Didion(http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3439/the-art-of-fiction-no-71-joan-di
dion)". The Paris Review, No. 74 (Fall-Winter 1978).
29. "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University" (http://www.slu.edu/libraries/associates/award.html).
www.slu.edu.
30. Saint Louis University Library Associates."Saint Louis University Library Associates Announce Winner of 2002
Literary Award" (http://lib.slu.edu/about/associates/literary-award/didion)
. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
31. "National Book Awards – 2005" (https://www.nationalbook.org/awards-prizes/national-book-awards-2005). National
Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-12.
(With acceptance speech by Didion.)
32. "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters"(http://www.nationalbook.org/amerletters.html). National Book
Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-12.
(With citation, introduction by Michael Cunningham, acceptance speech by Didion, and biographical blurb.)
33. New York Times: "A Medal for Joan Didion," Sept. 11, 2007
34. "Ten honorary degrees awarded at Commencement" (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/06/ten-honorary-de
grees-awarded-at-commencement/). Harvard Gazette.
35. "Joan-Didion.info "Didion Receives Honorary Degree from aYle" " (https://web.archive.org/web/20110623013811/htt
p://joan-didion.info/2011/05/yale/). Archived from the original (http://joan-didion.info/2011/05/yale/)on 2011-06-23.
36. Daunt, Tina. "George Lucas, Joan Didion to Receive White House Honors"(http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/
george-lucas-joan-didion-receive-579903).. The Hollywood Reporter, 2013-07-03
37. Amber Day, Satire and Dissent: Interventions in Contemporary Political Debate(2011), p. 4
38. Sarah Bennett (August 11, 2012)."Joan Didion and Todd Field Are Co-writing aScreenplay" (https://web.archive.or
g/web/20161222093030/http://www.vulture.com/2012/08/joan-didion-todd-field-co-writing-a-screenplay .html). New
York Magazine. Archived from the original (http://www.vulture.com/2012/08/joan-didion-todd-field-co-writing-a-screen
play.html/) on December 22, 2016. Retrieved 2016-12-16.

Further reading
Daugherty, Tracy. The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion . New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015.
Davidson, Sara. Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion, ISBN 978-1-61452-016-0

External links
Joan Didion on The California Museum's California Legacy rTails External media
The New York Review of Books: Joan Didion
Audio
Appearances on C-SPAN
2005 audio interview of Joan
Didion by Susan Stamberg of
National Public Radio - RealAudio
Didion and Vanessa Redgrave
on NPR's Morning Edition
Didion on NPR's Fresh Air
discusses The Year of Magical
Thinking
Podcast #46: Joan Didion on
Writing and Revising, NYPL, Tracy
O'Neill, January 29, 2015
Video
In Depth interview with Didion,
May 7, 2000
Retrieved from "https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joan_Didion&oldid=873049326
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