Joan Didion, outstanding prose stylist, dies at 87
NEW YORK – Joan Didion, the revered author and essayist whose precise social and personal commentary in classics such as “The White Album” and “The Year of Magical Thinking” has made her a unique lucid critique of turbulent times. , is dead. She was 87 years old.
Didion publisher Penguin Random House announced the author’s death on Thursday. She died of complications from Parkinson’s disease, the company said.
“Didion was one of the country’s most insightful writers and observers. His best-selling works of fiction, commentary and memoir have received numerous accolades and are considered modern classics, ”Penguin Random House said in a statement.
Along with Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron and Gay Talese, Didion reigned in the pantheon of “new journalists” who emerged in the 1960s and married literary style with non-fiction reporting. Small and frail even as a young woman, with big sad eyes often hidden behind sunglasses and a gentle, deliberate style of speaking, she was a novelist, playwright, and essayist who once observed that “I am so physically petite, so low-key in temperament, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence is against their best interests.
Or, as she more famously put it, “Writers are always selling someone. “
Didion received a National Humanities Medal in 2012, when she was praised for dedicating “her life to noticing things that others try not to see”. For decades she had engaged in cold and ruthless dissection of politics and culture, from hippies to presidential campaigns to the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and for her distrust of official history.
“Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, “The White Album” and other books have become essential collections of literary journalism, with notable writings including its elimination from Hollywood politics in “Good Citizens” and a prophetic dissent against the consensus according to which, in 1989, five young black and Latino men raped a white jogger in Central Park (the men’s convictions were later overturned and they were released from prison).
Author Susan Orlean called Didion “my idol and inspiration” on Twitter.
Didion was equally ruthless in the face of his own struggles. She was diagnosed in her thirties with multiple sclerosis and around the same time she had depression and went to a psychiatric clinic in Santa Monica, Calif., Who diagnosed her worldview as “basically pessimistic, fatalistic and depressive ”. In her 70s, she gave an account of a personal tragedy in the heartbreaking 2005 work, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” a tale formed of the chaos of grief that followed the death of her husband and partner. ‘writing, John Gregory Dunne. It won a National Book Award and she adapted it as a Broadway solo play starring Vanessa Redgrave.
Dunne had collapsed in 2003 at their table and died of a heart attack even as their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, was gravely ill in a hospital. Memories were a bestseller and an almost instant standard, the kind of work people instinctively looked for after losing a loved one. Didion said that she regarded the work as the testament of a specific time; tragically, “Magic Thinking” became dated shortly after its publication. Quintana died in the summer of 2005 at the age of 39 from acute pancreatitis. Didion wrote about his daughter’s death in the 2011 publication “Blue Nights”.
“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. Didion spent her final years in New York City, but she identified most strongly with her home state of California, “A hologram which dematerializes as I go through it”. It was the setting for his best-known novel, the desperate “Play It As It Lays”, and many of his essays.
“California belongs to Joan Didion,” wrote New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani. “Not California where everyone wears aviator sunglasses, owns a jacuzzi, and buys their clothes on Rodeo Drive. But California in the Western sense. The Old West where Manifest Destiny was an almost palpable notion that was somehow tied to the land and climate and its own family.
Didion’s subjects also included earthquakes, movie stars and Cuban exiles, but common themes emerged: the need to impose order where order does not exist, the gap between wisdom accepted and real life, the way people – and others – trick people into believing world can be explained in a straight narrative line. Much of his non-fiction was collected in the 2006 book “We Tell Each Other Stories for a Living”, named after the opening line of his famous essay titled “The White Album,” a testimonial from a woman’s search for the truth behind the truth. .
“We seek the sermon in suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five,” she wrote. “We live entirely, especially if we are writers, from the imposition of a narrative line on disparate images,” ideas “with which we have learned to freeze the moving phantasmagoria which is our real experience. “
She was a longtime explorer, writing about a trip to war-torn El Salvador in the documentary “Salvador” and completing “A Book of Common Prayer” after a disastrous trip to a film festival in Colombia in the early 1970s. “South and West: From a Notebook,” sightings made while driving in the southern United States, was released in 2017, the same year, nephew Griffin Dunne’s documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” was released. published. In 2019, the Library of America began to compile its work in bound volumes.
Didion prided herself on being a foreigner, more at ease with gas station attendants than with celebrities. But she and her husband, whose brother was writer-journalist Dominick Dunne, were well placed in high society. In California, they socialized with Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg among others and a young Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter in their home. They then lived in a spacious apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, knew all the right people and had a successful side career as screenwriters, collaborating on “The Panic in Needle Park,” a remake of “A Star. Is Born “and adaptations of” Play It As It Lays “and its” True Confessions “.
Born in 1934 in Sacramento, California and from pioneers who traveled with the famous Donner Party, Didion was fascinated by books from an early age. She was encouraged to write by her mother, as a way to fill in time, and was particularly impressed by the prose of Ernest Hemingway, whose laconic rhythms anticipated hers. She was both shy and ambitious, prone to loneliness, but also determined to express herself through writing and public speaking. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956 and moved to New York for a job at Vogue after winning a writing competition sponsored by the magazine.
Conservative in her early years, voting for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and contributing to essays for William F. Buckley’s National Review, Didion later became more liberal, attacking the role of religion in politics and “the increasingly histrionic “establishment insistence that President Clinton be removed from office for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.” She was particularly scathing about the quality of political reporting, poking fun at the “inside baseball” journalism of presidential campaigns and dismissing Bob Woodward’s best-selling books as bland, voyeuristic “political pornography”.
Didion married Dunne, whom she had met at a dinner party, in 1964. Two years later, they adopted a baby girl, Quintana Roo. Author couples are notoriously combustible, from the drunken brawl of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett to the infidelity and suicidal demons of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. But despite their own conflicts, Didion says she and Dunne grew up and endured.
“Whatever problems we had, it wasn’t from being writers,” she told the AP. “What was good for one was good for the other.”
Associated Press National Writer Hillel Italy contributed to this report.
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