at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival
|Born||December 5, 1934|
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley|
|Literary movement||New Journalism|
John Gregory Dunne
(m. 1964;d. 2003)
|Children||Quintana Roo Dunne|
Joan Didion ( // ; born December 5, 1934) is an American writer who launched her career in the 1960s after winning an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. Didion's writing during the 1960s through the late 1970s engaged audiences in the realities of the counterculture of the 1960s and the Hollywood lifestyle. Her political writing often concentrated on the subtext of political and social rhetoric. In 1991, she wrote the earliest mainstream media article to suggest the Central Park Five had been wrongfully convicted. In 2005, she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography for The Year of Magical Thinking . She later adapted the book into a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007. In 2017, Didion was profiled in the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold , directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne.
Joan Didion was born on December 5, 1934, in Sacramento, California,to Frank Reese and Eduene (née Jerrett) Didion. Didion recalls writing things down as early as age five, though she says she never saw herself as a writer until after her work had been published. She identified as a "shy, bookish child" who pushed herself to overcome social anxiety through acting and public speaking. She read everything she could get her hands on. She spent her adolescence typing out Ernest Hemingway's works to learn more about how sentence structures work.
Didion's early education did not follow the traditional format. 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 moving so often made her feel like a perpetual outsider.
In 1956, Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.During her senior year, she won first place in the "Prix de Paris" 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 architect William Wilson Wurster.
During her seven years at Vogue, Didion worked her way up from promotional copywriter to associate feature editor.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 magazine pieces about her experiences in California. The New York Times referred to it as containing "grace, sophistication, nuance, [and] irony."
Didion's novel Play It as It Lays , set in Hollywood, was published in 1970, and A Book of Common Prayer appeared 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 .
Didion's 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 War. Her 1987 nonfiction book Miami looked at the Cuban expatriate community in that city.
In a prescient New York Review of Books piece of 1991, a year after the various trials of the Central Park Five had ended, Didion dissected serious flaws in the prosecution's case, becoming the earliest mainstream writer to view the guilty verdicts as a miscarriage of justice.She suggested the obtaining of convictions against the Five had resulted from a sociopolitical narrative with racial overtones that had clouded the judgement of the court.
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 his death 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 journalist Jessica 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.She went on a book tour following the book's release, doing many readings and promotional interviews, and has said she found the 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 theater, she has since found the genre, which was new to her, to be quite exciting.
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.As of 2009, Didion was no longer working on the project.
In 2011, Knopf published Blue Nights , a memoir about aging.The book focuses on Didion's daughter, who died just before The Year of Magical Thinking was published. It addresses their relationship with "stunning frankness." More generally, the book deals with the anxieties Didion experienced about adopting and raising a child, and 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.
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 long 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."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 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.
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)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 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 writer Henry James, who wrote "perfect, indirect, complicated sentences" and George Eliot.
Because of her belief that it is the media that tells us how to live, Joan Didion has become an observer of journalists themselves.She believes that the difference between the process of fiction and nonfiction is the element of discovery that takes place in 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".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 finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're right next to it."
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."The criticism from Harrison "still gets her (Didion's) hackles up, decades later," New York Magazine reported in 2011.
In 1981, Didion was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1996, Didion was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal.
In 2002, Didion received the St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates.
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.Documenting the grief she experienced following the sudden death of her husband, the book has been said to 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."This same year, Didion also won the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America.
In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University.Yale University conferred another honorary Doctor of Letters degree upon her in 2011. 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.
While in New York and working at Vogue, Didion met John Gregory Dunne, her future husband, who was writing for Time magazine. He was the younger brother of the 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 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.
In 1979, Didion was living in Brentwood Park, California, a quiet, residential neighborhood of Los Angeles. Before her move to Brentwood she lived in the Hollywood/Los Feliz area on Franklin Ave from 1963-1971,one block north of Hollywood Blvd.
Two tragedies struck Didion in the space of fewer 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 the pavement and suffered a massive hematoma. She required six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center.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. Didion later wrote about Quintana's death in the 2011 book Blue Nights .
As of 2005 [update] , Didion was living in an apartment on East 71st Street in New York City. Didion's nephew Griffin Dunne directed a documentary about Didion titled Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold ; it was released by Netflix on October 27, 2017. In the documentary, with the assistance of her nephew and friends who have seen Didion's professional life prosper, Didion further divulges her writing career and personal life. The deaths of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, are also further explored, adding context to Didion’s books The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights.
Annie Dillard is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. From 1980, Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Creative nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact but is not written to entertain based on prose style.
John Gregory Dunne was an American novelist, screenwriter and literary critic.
Susanne Antonetta is the pen name of Suzanne Paola, an American poet and author who is most widely known for her book Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir (ISBN 1-58243-116-7). In 2001, Body Toxic received recognition as a 'Notable Book' from the New York Times. An excerpt of "Body Toxic" was published as a stand-alone essay which was recognized as a 'Notable Essay' in the 1998 Best American Essays 1998 anthology. She has published several prize-winning collections of poems, including Bardo, a Brittingham Prize in Poetry winner, and the poetry books Petitioner, Glass, and most recently The Lives of The Saints. She currently resides in Washington with her husband and adopted son. She is widely published both in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as in literary journals including Orion, Brevity, JuxtaProse Literary Magazine, Seneca Review, and Image. She is the current Editor-in-Chief of Bellingham Review.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a 1968 collection of essays by Joan Didion that mainly describes her experiences in California during the 1960s. It takes its title from the poem "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats. The contents of this book are reprinted in Didion's We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (2006).
The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), by Joan Didion, is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003). Published by Knopf in October 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. It won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography.
The New Journalism is a 1973 anthology of journalism edited by Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson. The book is both a manifesto for a new type of journalism by Wolfe, and a collection of examples of New Journalism by American writers, covering a variety of subjects from the frivolous to the deadly serious. The pieces are notable because they do not conform to the standard dispassionate and even-handed model of journalism. Rather they incorporate literary devices usually only found in fictional works.
Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and cultural critic. She is currently Professor/Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany and teaches at the School of Visual Arts' Art Criticism and Writing MFA Program. Tillman is the author of six novels, five collections of short stories, two collection of essays, and two other nonfiction books. She writes a bi-monthly column "In These Intemperate Times" for Frieze art magazine.
Merilyn Simonds is a Canadian writer.
The White Album is a 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. Like her previous book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album is a collection of works previously published in magazines such as Life and Esquire. The subjects of the essays range widely and represent a mixture of memoir, criticism, and journalism, focusing on the history and politics of California in the late 1960s and early 70s. With the publication of The White Album, Didion had established herself as a prominent writer on Californian culture. As one contemporary reviewer stated, "California belongs to Joan Didion."
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction is a 2006 collection of nonfiction by Joan Didion. It was released in the Everyman's Library, a series of reprinted classic literature, as one of the titles chosen to mark the series' 100th anniversary. The title is taken from the opening line of Didion's essay "The White Album" in the book of the same name. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live includes the full content of her first seven volumes of nonfiction. The contents range in style, including journalism, memoir, and cultural and political commentary.
Rebecca Solnit is an American writer. She has written on a variety of subjects, including feminism, the environment, politics, place, and art.
Noel E. Parmentel, Jr., was a leading figure on the New York political journalism, literary, and cultural scene during the third quarter of the 20th century.
Isabel Wilkerson is an American journalist and the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.
Jill Lepore is an American historian. She is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she has contributed since 2005. She writes about American history, law, literature, and politics.
Lisa Dale Norton is an American author best known as a writer of literary nonfiction and creative nonfiction. She is the great-niece of Evelyn Maurine Norton Lincoln, U.S. President John F. Kennedy's personal secretary. Norton makes her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Valerie Boyd, is an American writer and academic, best known for her biography of Zora Neale Hurston Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Boyd is currently an Associate Professor and the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, where she teaches narrative nonfiction writing, as well as arts and literary journalism.
Blue Nights is a memoir written by American author Joan Didion, first published in 2011. The memoir is an account of the death of Didion's daughter, Quintana, who died in 2005 at age 39. Didion also discusses her own feelings on parenthood and aging. The title refers to certain times in the "summer solstice [...] when the twilights turn long and blue." Blue Nights is notable for its "nihilistic" attitude towards grief as Didion offers little understanding or explanation of her daughter's death. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Cathleen Schine said,
"'We tell ourselves stories in order to live,' Didion famously wrote in The White Album. Blue Nights is about what happens when there are no more stories we can tell ourselves, no narrative to guide us and make sense out of the chaos, no order, no meaning, no conclusion to the tale."
Awards presented by the PEN American Center that are no longer active.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold is a 2017 documentary film about Joan Didion and her work.
"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is a classic of what was later named the New Journalism.
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