Skip to content
Home » Joan Didion: Revered author who chronicled American tradition

Joan Didion: Revered author who chronicled American tradition


Joan Didion, a virtuosic prose stylist who for greater than 4 a long time explored the agitated, fractured state of the American psyche in her novels, essays, criticism and memoirs, and who as one of many “New Journalists” of the Sixties and 70s helped reportorial non-fiction purchase the standing of an artwork type, has died aged 87.

With an unwavering eye and a piercing mind, Didion revealed an America gripped by ethical decadence and self-deception, its residents in thrall to false narratives that provided little clarification of how the world labored.

Her trenchant, steadily contrarian opinions on topics as assorted because the movies of Woody Allen and the site visitors in Los Angeles had been matched by a exact model that was nearly universally admired.

Lots of her early works – the basic essay collections Slouching In direction of Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) – chronicled the grim realities of mid-century California. In that sun-dappled land of delight and risk, America appeared as an alternative to be falling aside, atomised by greed and amorality.

Didion argued “that the Norman Rockwell model of America was a handy phantasm, and that if you happen to appeared carefully, we lived in a time during which concern and nervousness and isolation and loneliness had been our frequent legal guidelines”, mentioned Martin Kaplan, a professor of leisure, media and society on the College of Southern California, in a 2015 interview.

In her later years, Didion grew to become identified for her dispassionate memoirs on dying and grieving. In The 12 months of Magical Considering (2005), she tracked the elliptical, death-denying patterns of thought that dominated her life after the sudden lack of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, from a coronary heart assault at residence, when he and Didion had simply returned from visiting their daughter in hospital.

“Lengthy earlier than what I wrote started to be revealed,” Didion wrote on the ebook’s outset, “I developed a way that that means itself was resident within the rhythms of phrases and sentences and paragraphs, a method for withholding no matter it was I assumed or believed behind an more and more impenetrable polish.” But, she continued, “it is a case during which I would like greater than phrases to search out the that means. It is a case during which I would like no matter it’s I believe or imagine to be penetrable, if just for myself.”

The ebook bought greater than one million copies, gained the Nationwide Guide Award, and was tailored by Didion right into a well-received Broadway play starring her buddy Vanessa Redgrave. Its success was darkened by the dying of Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, shortly after its publication.

Talking at an occasion in California in 1977


Like Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, Didion was one of many few writers of her period who had been immediately recognisable to a mass viewers by their cultivation of an off-the-page mystique. Photographed for Time journal shortly after the publication of Slouching, she appeared a paragon of sang-froid, posing in entrance of her yellow Corvette Stingray with a cigarette in her hand.

She remained a vogue icon till late in life, photographed for a Céline advert in 2015 along with her hair in a bob and her eyes obscured by a pair of enormous, darkish sun shades. But she additionally explored her bodily fragility, writing about her frequent migraines, and revealing, within the title essay of The White Album, that she had gone blind for six weeks from a situation recognized as a number of sclerosis, and had checked herself right into a psychiatric clinic.

Didion and Dunne, a fellow novelist, largely funded their literary work by writing and revising Hollywood screenplays. Ensconced within the social whirl of Nineteen Seventies Hollywood, the couple hosted and partied with stars together with Warren Beatty and The Mamas and the Papas, and had been among the many most extremely paid screenwriters in Hollywood.

Their movies included A Star Is Born (1976), with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as rising and fading rock singers, respectively; and True Confessions (1981), that includes Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall in an adaptation of Dunne’s LA crime novel.

Didion herself was typically disparaging of screenwriting, which she instructed The Paris Evaluate was “not writing” however “notes for the director”.

The opposite writing she did, the “true” writing of her essays and books, was important to her life. “Had I been blessed with even restricted entry to my very own thoughts there would have been no cause to put in writing,” she mentioned in a chat and essay titled “Why I Write”. “I write totally to search out out what I’m considering, what I’m taking a look at, what I see and what it means.”

At Berkeley in April 1981


Joan Didion was born on 5 December 1934, to a fourth-generation California household. Her father bought insurance coverage and later grew to become an actual property speculator; her mom, Didion later wrote, was a socialite who “‘gave teas’ the way in which different moms breathed.”

Travelling throughout the nation along with her father, who labored as a finance officer with the Military Air Forces in the course of the Second World Struggle, she developed an almost lifelong behavior of taking her pocket book along with her wherever she went, furtively recording snatches of dialogue from adults whispering behind closed doorways or convalescing at navy hospitals.

Shortly earlier than graduating from the College of California at Berkeley in 1956, Didion gained a Vogue journal contest for younger writers. Selecting between the competition’s two prize choices, a visit to Paris or a job at Vogue, she determined she would attempt her luck on the journal’s workplaces in New York.

On the facet, she wrote for publications togeth
er with the Nationwide Evaluate, The Nation and The Saturday Night Publish. Whether or not praising the work ethic of an ailing and ageing John Wayne or, in later years, providing a scathing critique of Woody Allen and the “fake adults” in motion pictures corresponding to Manhattan and Interiors, she developed a fame as an independent-minded critic, fiercely involved with authenticity.

Didion (R) with Dunne and their daughter in Malibu in 1976


In 1964, she married Dunne, who was working as a employees author at Time. They shortly left for Hollywood, the place Dunne’s older brother, Dominick, labored as a film producer and was in a position to introduce them to studio executives round city.

Rocked by alcohol and their shared ambition to be nice writers, their marriage was tumultuous in its early years, a undeniable fact that Didion didn’t hesitate to include into her work. When in 1969 she was given an everyday column at Life, she started her first piece this fashion, describing a household journey to Hawaii: “We’re right here on this island in the midst of the Pacific in lieu of submitting for divorce.” Dunne, as he at all times did, edited the story.

Their daughter, Quintana Roo, was born in 1966 and was quickly adopted by Didion and her husband, who named her for a state in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. They returned to New York in 1988, taking an residence on the Higher East Aspect, the place Didion lived till her dying.

A Barry Goldwater Republican for a lot of the Sixties, Didion step by step grew to become disillusioned with the occasion throughout Ronald Reagan’s tenure as governor of California. Inspired by Robert Silvers, editor of The New York Evaluate of Books, she more and more centered on the theatre, and on the hypocrisy of American politics, in non-fiction books corresponding to Salvador (1983), about US involvement in El Salvador’s civil struggle, Miami (1987), about that metropolis’s Cuban immigrant group, and the essay assortment After Henry (1992).

The press was a frequent goal in her work, with Washington Publish journalist Bob Woodward taking a few of her most biting criticism in a 1996 essay, included in her assortment Political Fictions (2001), which described his reporting after Watergate as mere stenography for the nation’s political elite.

Her political work, in addition to her extra private writing in books corresponding to The place I Was From (2003), a mix of memoir and California historical past, was guided by a priority with “narrative”. Tales, in her view, enable us to make sense of our lives and world – although not sometimes these tales are myths; comforting fictions liable to crack.

“We inform ourselves tales to be able to reside,” Didion wrote within the title essay for The White Album. She added: “We reside totally, particularly if we’re writers, by the imposition of a story line upon disparate pictures, by the ‘concepts’ with which we now have realized to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our precise expertise. Or no less than we do for some time.”

Joan Didion, journalist and writer, born 5 December 1934, died 23 December 2021

© The Washington Publish


Supply hyperlink