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.

A remarkable female figure in the very masculine New Journalism movement alongside Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Gay Talese, Didion has cast her precise and detached outlook on American society and her own life in writings collected in books such as Slouching Towards Bethlehem , his lucid journey through the promise and dissolution of the Californian counterculture of the Sixties, and The White Album, which began, in its economical and shrewd style, with “We tell each other stories to live”.

“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 she was shaped by her hometown of California, “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 returned to alienation and isolation throughout her career, as she explored her own grief after the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne in the finalist Pulitzer The year of magical thinking, the Hollywood void of 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 new subject of her interrogation 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

In its most recent collection of selected essays, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, the Guardian wrote: The 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 news of his death was announced, tributes poured in from across the spectrum in politics and letters. California Governor Gavin Newsom said Didion was “unmatched in his ability to write about life, loss, love and society – by far California’s best living writer.” 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 a masterful and fearless essayist and novelist. “She always seemed able to hear and see what other reporters missed and her range was wide from California, from rock and roll, to American culture and politics, to Central America to memoir. His writing is timeless, original, premonitory and unexpected.

Born in Sacramento in 1934, Didion spent her early childhood sheltered from the restrictions of school, her father’s work in the Army Air Corps taking the family across the country. A “nervous” child with a tendency to headaches, Didion nevertheless started her path very 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. She met Dunne there – they married at 29 – and between New York and Los Angeles, she rubbed shoulders with many famous contemporaries who would become friends, colleagues and rivals: Sylvia Plath, Roman Polanski, Janis Joplin (who had a house party) , 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. Her first collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem was published in 1968: with her essay titled on the Haight-Ashbury hippie community, the collection established Didion’s voice as outstanding; in the New York Times review at the time, Dan Wakefield called Didion “one of the least famous and most talented writers of my 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 journalist, when interviewing him, noted with surprise his calm and fragile body. 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 brotherhood 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 upon her death while, at the same time, 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, his daughter 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, President Barack Obama told the audience: “I am surprised that she has not already received this award.

In his last 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, South and West, was a collection of his notes on a trip to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana in the 1970s; when released in 2017, it was marketed as a premonitory view of the voter base of then-newly elected president, Donald Trump. Speaking to The Guardian on its outing, 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 going through the scariest times right now. “


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