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About Joan Didion
Joan Didion was born in Sacramento in 1934 and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956. After graduation, Didion moved to New York and began working for Vogue, which led to her career as a journalist and writer. Didion published her first novel, Run River, in 1963. Didion’s other novels include A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984), and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996).
Didion’s first volume of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968, and her second, The White Album, was published in 1979. Her nonfiction works include Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), Where I Was From (2003), We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live (2006), Blue Nights (2011), South and West (2017) and Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021). Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005.
In 2005, Didion was awarded the American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Criticism and Belles Letters. In 2007, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. A portion of National Book Foundation citation read: "An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, Didion’s 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.” In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama, and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Didion said of her writing: "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” She died in December 2021.
Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe
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Books By Joan Didion
In this landmark essay collection, Joan Didion brilliantly interweaves her own “bad dreams” with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.
From a jailhouse visit to Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton to witnessing First Lady of California Nancy Reagan pretend to pick flowers for the benefit of news cameras, Didion captures the paranoia and absurdity of the era with her signature blend of irony and insight. She takes readers to the “giddily splendid” Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the cool mountains of Bogotá, and the Jordanian Desert, where Bishop James Pike went to walk in Jesus’s footsteps—and died not far from his rented Ford Cortina. She anatomizes the culture of shopping malls—“toy garden cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”—and exposes the contradictions and compromises of the women’s movement. In the iconic title essay, she documents her uneasy state of mind during the years leading up to and following the Manson murders—a terrifying crime that, in her memory, surprised no one.
Written in “a voice like no other in contemporary journalism,” The White Album is a masterpiece of literary reportage and a fearless work of autobiography by the National Book Award–winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking (The New York Times Book Review). Its power to electrify and inform remains undiminished nearly forty years after it was first published.
From one of America's iconic writers, a portrait of a marriage and a life – in good times and bad – that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child. A stunning book of electric honesty and passion.
Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve –the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.
This powerful book is Didion’s ‘attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness … about marriage and children and memory … about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself’. The result is an exploration of an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad.
Spare, elegant, and terrifying, Play It as It Lays is the unforgettable story of a woman and a society come undone.
Raised in the ghost town of Silver Wells, Nevada, Maria Wyeth is an ex-model and the star of two films directed by her estranged husband, Carter Lang. But in the spiritual desert of 1960s Los Angeles, Maria has lost the plot of her own life. Her daughter, Kate, was born with an “aberrant chemical in her brain.” Her long-troubled marriage has slipped beyond repair, and her disastrous love affairs and strained friendships provide little comfort. Her only escape is to get in her car and drive the freeway—in the fast lane with the radio turned up high—until it runs out “somewhere no place at all where the flawless burning concrete just stopped.” But every ride to nowhere, every sleepless night numbed by pills and booze and sex, makes it harder for Maria to find the meaning in another day.
Told with profound economy of style and a “vision as bleak and precise as Eliot’s in ‘The Wasteland’,” Play It as It Lays ruthlessly dissects the dark heart of the American dream (The New York Times). It is a searing masterpiece “from one of the very few writers of our time who approaches her terrible subject with absolute seriousness, with fear and humility and awe” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review).
Capturing the tumultuous landscape of the United States, and in particular California, during a pivotal era of social change, the first work of nonfiction from one of American literature’s most distinctive prose stylists is a modern classic.
In twenty razor-sharp essays that redefined the art of journalism, National Book Award–winning author Joan Didion reports on a society gripped by a deep generational divide, from the “misplaced children” dropping acid in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to Hollywood legend John Wayne filming his first picture after a bout with cancer. She paints indelible portraits of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and folk singer Joan Baez, “a personality before she was entirely a person,” and takes readers on eye-opening journeys to Death Valley, Hawaii, and Las Vegas, “the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements.”
First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been heralded by the New York Times Book Review as “a rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country” and named to Time magazine’s list of the one hundred best and most influential nonfiction books. It is the definitive account of a terrifying and transformative decade in American history whose discordant reverberations continue to sound a half-century later.
Twelve early pieces never before collected that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of Joan Didion.
Mostly drawn from the earliest part of her astonishing five-decade career, the wide-ranging pieces in this collection include Didion writing about a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, a visit to San Simeon, and a reunion of WWII veterans in Las Vegas, and about topics ranging from Nancy Reagan to Robert Mapplethorpe to Martha Stewart.
Here are subjects Didion has long written about – the press, politics, California robber baronsac, women, the act of writing, and her own self-doubt. Each piece is classic Didion: incisive and, in new light, stunningly prescient.
From one of America’s greatest and most iconic writers: an honest and courageous portrait of age and motherhood.
Several days before Christmas 2003, Joan Didion’s only daughter, Quintana, fell seriously ill. In 2010, Didion marked the sixth anniversary of her daughter’s death. ‘Blue Nights’ is a shatteringly honest examination of Joan Didion’s life as a mother, a woman and a writer.
Recently widowed, and becoming increasingly frail, ‘Blue Nights’ is Didion’s attempt to understand our deepest fears, our inadequate adjustments to ageing and to put a name to what we refuse to see and as a consequence fail to face up to, ‘this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of ageing, illness and death. This fear.’ This fear is tied to what we cherish most and fight to conserve, protect, and refuse to let go, for, ‘when we are talking about mortality we are talking about our children.’ To face death is to let go of memory, to be bereft once more, ‘I know what it is I am now experiencing. I know what the frailty is, I know what the fear is.’
The fear is not for what is lost.
The fear is for what is still to be lost.
You may see nothing still to be lost.
Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her.
A profound, poetic and powerful book about motherhood and the fierce way in which we continue to exalt and nurture our children, even if they only live on in memory.
‘Blue Nights’ is an intensely personal, and yet, strangely universal account of how we love. It is both groundbreaking and a culmination of a stunning career.
A memoir of land, family and perseverance from one of the most influential writers in America.
In this moving and surprising book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history – and America’s. Where I Was From, in Didion's words, "represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely."
The book is a haunting narrative of how her own family moved west with the frontier from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in Virginia in 1766 to the death of her mother on the edge of the Pacific in 2001; of how the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue. Didion examines how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today – a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government.
Joan Didion's unerring sense of America and its spirit, her acute interpretation of its institutions and literature, and her incisive questioning of the stories it tells itself make this fiercely intelligent book a provocative and important tour de force from one of America’s greatest writers.
An engrossing novel about political and personal life in Central America, from the award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking.
Set in the ruined Central American nation of Boca Grande, A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women and their conflicting experiences of wealth, politics and personal history. We follow the intriguing life of Grace Strasser-Mendana – an American expatriate and member of one of Boca Grande’s most influential families – alongside the story of Charlotte Douglas, whose daughter Medin has run off with a group of Marxist radicals. What follows is an exploration of the women’s ability to make sense of the behaviour that surrounds them, as their worlds are made hazy by the atmosphere of evil and innocence that envelops their strained and entangled lives.
In these eleven essays covering the national scene from Washington, DC; California; and New York, the acclaimed author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album “capture[s] the mood of America” and confirms her reputation as one of our sharpest and most trustworthy cultural observers (The New York Times).
Whether dissecting the 1988 presidential campaign, exploring the commercialization of a Hollywood murder, or reporting on the “sideshows” of foreign wars, Joan Didion proves that she is one of the premier essayists of the twentieth century, “an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review). Highlights include “In the Realm of the Fisher King,” a portrait of the White House under the stewardship of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, two “actors on location;” and “Girl of the Golden West,” a meditation on the Patty Hearst case that draws an unexpected and insightful parallel between the kidnapped heiress and the emigrants who settled California. “Sentimental Journeys” is a deeply felt study of New York media coverage of the brutal rape of a white investment banker in Central Park, a notorious crime that exposed the city’s racial and class fault lines.
Dedicated to Henry Robbins, Didion’s friend and editor from 1966 until his death in 1979, After Henry is an indispensable collection of “superior reporting and criticism” from a writer on whom we have relied for more than fifty years “to get the story straight” (Los Angeles Times).
“A vida muda num instante. Num dia normal.”
É assim que Joan Didion inicia a sua viagem pela memória do ano mais transformador da sua vida, começando na noite em que o seu marido, o escritor John Dunne, com quem foi casada mais de 30 anos, morre de ataque cardíaco, e a sua única filha está em coma no hospital. Com uma escrita tão assertiva como limpa, tão honesta como desarmante, Didion investiga os vivos que sobrevivem aos mortos, revelando, através da sua experiência pessoal, aquilo que é universal a todos: a dor da perda, a necessidade da superação quando tudo parece inútil.
Num registo por vezes jornalístico, recorrendo a estudos, especialistas ou a poemas e obras de arte, outras vezes confessional e literário, mas escapando da autopiedade, Didion deixa o fluxo da sua consciência viajar pelas memórias do casamento, pela experiência da maternidade e da escrita, recordações que emergem a cada momento, quando trata do funeral do marido ou visita a filha inconsciente no hospital.
From one of the most important chroniclers of our time, come two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer.
Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles
Here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies' brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters' Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through.
And from a different notebook: the "California Notes" that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage.