Joan Didion, American journalist and author, dies at 87 | Jeanne Didion


Joan Didion, the eminent journalist, author and anthropologist of contemporary American politics and culture – a singularly clear and precise voice on a multitude of subjects for over 60 years – has died at her home in Manhattan, New York. She was 87 years old.

The cause of death was Parkinson’s disease, according to Paul Bogaards, an executive at Didion publisher Knopf.

Known for her innovative blend of personal and politics in her journalism and essays, Didion has become a household name with her writings on American society.

As a notable female figure in the male-dominated ‘new journalism’ movement alongside Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Gay Talese, Didion took a precise and detached eye on American society and her own life in the writing that has been collected in books including Slouching To Bethlehem, his journey through the promise and dissolution of the Californian counterculture of the 1960s, and The White Album, which began in a quintessentially economical style, with: “We tell each other stories to live on.

“We have sort of evolved into a society where mourning is totally hidden. This does not happen in our family. It’s not happening at all, ”she told The Associated Press in 2005 after publishing The Year of Magical Thinking, an account of the loss of her husband John Gregory Dunne.

Didion spent her final years in New York City, but was shaped by her home state of California, which she called “a hologram that dematerializes as I walk through it.”

“A place,” she wrote one day, “belongs forever to the one who claims it the hardest, remembers it the most obsessively, tears it away from himself, shapes it, gives it back, loves it so radically that ‘he remakes it in his own image.

Famous for her detached, sometimes elegiac tone, Didion revisited themes of alienation and isolation throughout her career, as she explored her own grief after Dunne’s death in the finalist Pulitzer The Year. magical thinking, the emptiness of Hollywood life in the novel Play It As It Lays, or expatriates caught up in Central American politics in his novel A Book of Common Prayer.

She was very protective of her work, never revealing, even to close friends, the subject of her writing until it was ready for publication. “No one writes better English prose than Joan Didion,” wrote literary critic John Leonard. “Try rearranging one of his sentences, and you realized that the sentence was inevitable, a hologram.”

Remembering Joan Didion: the journalist and author in her own words - video
Remembering Joan Didion: the journalist and author in her own words – video

Of her most recent collection of selected essays, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, the Guardian reviewer wrote: atmospheres and perceptions. She is typically present in her essays as a voice rather than a character, an observer rather than a participant – although the boundaries steadily blur. “

After the announcement of his death, tributes poured in from all political and literary circles. California Governor Gavin Newsom said Didion was “unmatched in his ability to write about life, loss, love and society – by far the best writer in California.” Her ability to put words to the California tapestry and the times has made her a treasure for her generation and generations to come.

Author Susan Orléans called Didion “my idol and my inspiration”.

“Didion was one of the country’s most insightful writers and observers,” Penguin Random House and its Knopf imprint said in a statement.

Shelley Wanger, editor-in-chief of Didion at Knopf since the early 1990s, told The Guardian the author was masterful and fearless. “She always seemed able to hear and see what other reporters missed and her spectrum was wide, from California to rock ‘n’ roll, American culture and politics, from Central America to memoirs. His writing is timeless, original, premonitory and unexpected.

Born in Sacramento in 1934, Didion spent her early childhood out of school, her father’s work in the Army Air Corps taking the family across the country. Didion was a “nervous” child with a tendency for headaches but started her path early, starting her first notebook at the age of five.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2003, she recalled an incident when she was 10 years old: while writing a story about a woman who committed suicide while walking in the ocean, she ” wanted to know what that would look like, so that I could describe her ”and almost drowned on a California beach. She never told her parents. (“I think the adults were playing cards.”)

In 1956, after majoring in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley, she won the Vogue writing competition at the age of 21, which saw her work for seven years in the magazine’s offices in New York. There she meets Dunne – they will marry at 29 – and between New York and Los Angeles, she begins to meet many famous contemporaries who will become friends, colleagues and rivals: Sylvia Plath, Roman Polanski, Janis Joplin (who celebrates at home ), Christopher Isherwood (who called her “Mrs Misery” in her diaries), Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood (who shared her clothes with Didion).

In 1963, his first book was published: the novel Run, River. In 1966, Didion and Dunne moved to Los Angeles and adopted a baby girl, Quintana Roo, named after the Mexican state. His first collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968: along with his essay on the Haight-Ashbury hippie community, the collection established Didion’s voice as outstanding. Examining it for the New York Times, Dan Wakefield called Didion “one of the least famous and most talented writers of my own generation.”

Didion followed him with her novel about life in Hollywood, Play It As It Lays, which she then adapted into a screenplay with Dunne; the couple have often worked together on screenplays, including the 1976 film A Star Is Born. A handful of fiction would follow over the next two decades – A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984) and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996) – but non-fiction dominated.

His second collection of essays, The White Album (1979), contained his most famous line: “We tell each other stories to live.” In 1983, Salvador appeared, a book-length essay on a trip she made to El Salvador with Dunne; Miami (1987), on the Cuban expatriate community in the city; After Henry (1992), a collection dedicated to Didion editor Henry Robbins; and Political Fictions (2001), which covered the elections of US Presidents George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Over the decades, little Didion has built her own mythology; more than one interviewer noted with surprise his calm and fragility. Her elegant style and fashion interest, encouraged at Vogue, also revered her as a symbol of cool; at age 80, she became the face of the French fashion house Céline.

Beginning in the 1980s, Didion focused on politics, coining the term “the permanent political class” to describe the fraternity of media, politicians and strategists who shape the self-image of the United States. After Clinton’s impeachment, she wrote: “No one who had never attended high school in America could have seen William Jefferson Clinton run for office in 1992 and not have recognized the familiar predatory sexuality of the provincial teenager. Among Washington journalists, she wrote, “what ‘fairness’ has often meant is scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it unfolds but as it is. presented, that is, as manufactured. “

When Dunne died of a heart attack in 2003, Didion began writing The Year of Magical Thinking, an exploration of her grief at her death when their daughter Quintana was gravely ill in hospital. Bluntly documenting the resulting strange habits, like keeping Dunne’s shoes on for his “comeback,” the book won him a Pulitzer Prize. A few months after its release in 2005, Quintana died of acute pancreatitis, at the age of 39, which Didion will write about in his 2011 reflection on aging and parenting, Blue Nights.

When she received her National Medal for the Arts and the National Medal for the Humanities in 2012, Barack Obama told guests, “I’m surprised she hasn’t won this award already.”

In his later years Didion wrote less. His most recent project was the subject of Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a 2018 Netflix documentary directed by his nephew, Griffin Dunne. His last book of original material, South and West, was a collection of his notes from his travels in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana in the 1970s. When released in 2017, it was marketed as an interpretation of Donald Trump’s electoral base. Speaking to The Guardian, Didion said, “I guess the crisis in American politics was behind everything I thought, whether or not I knew I meant it. These things have a way of getting in. I think we are living the scariest times. “

This footnote was added on December 24, 2021. South and West was Joan Didion’s last book of original material. The sequel, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, included article reprints.


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