JOAN DIDION Biography - People in the News and Media


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Name: Joan Didion                                                                       
Born: 5 December 1934                                                                   
Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American writer, known as a journalist,       
essayist, and novelist. Didion contributes regularly to The New York Review of           
Books. According to a 1979 New York Times review of Didion's book, "The White           
Album," reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote, "Novelist and poet James Dickey has             
called Didion 'the finest woman prose stylist writing in English today.'"               
With her late husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, she collaborated on several           
screenplays. She lives in New York City.                                                 
Didion was born in Sacramento, California and graduated from the University of           
California, Berkeley in 1956 with a BA in English. Much of Didion's writing             
draws from her life in California, particularly during the 1960s as the world in         
which she grew up "began to seem remote." Her portrayals of conspiracy theorists,       
paranoiacs, and sociopaths are now considered part of the canon of American             
She adopted a culturally conservative stance; her early career being spent as a         
Goldwater conservative and writing incisive articles in William Buckley's               
National Review. Perhaps as a reaction to Reagan whom she termed a faux                 
conservative, or as a result of being closely aligned with progressive writers           
in the New York literary world in which she moved in the seventies, she                 
abandoned her earlier leanings and moved toward the liberal tenets of the               
Democrats. Didion retains a conservative bent, though, sharply chronicling               
America after World War II with its endless search for privacy and fulfillment           
of individual dreams.                                                                   
Didion is the author of five novels and eight books of nonfiction. Her early             
collections of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979)     
-- a book described in one review as helping to define California as "the               
paranoia capital of the world" -- made her famous as an observer of American             
politics and culture with a distinctive style of reporting that mixed personal           
reflection and social analysis. This led her to be associated with members of           
the New Journalism such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, though Didion's             
ties to that movement have never been considered particularly strong.                   
Didion is not without her critics. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison skewered Didion's           
style (and to some extent Didion herself) in her essay: Joan Didion: Only               
Disconnect from Off Center: Essays by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. ("When I am             
asked why I do not find Joan Didion appealing, I am tempted to answer -- not             
entirely facetiously -- that my charity does not naturally extend itself to             
someone whose lavender love seats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel,       
someone who has porcelain elephant end tables, someone who has chosen to burden         
her daughter with the name Quintana Roo....")                                           
In 2001 Didion published Political Fictions, a collection of essays which had           
first appeared in the New York Review of Books. Issues and personalities covered         
in the essays included The Religious Right, Newt Gingrich, and the Reagan               
Where I Was From (2003), a memoir, explores the mythologies of California, and           
the author's relationship to her birthplace and to her mother. Indirectly, it           
also serves as a rumination on the American frontier myth and the culture that           
we see today in California as a direct consequence of a population of                   
survivalists who made it "through the Sierra," finally posing the question "at           
what cost progress?"                                                                     
Didion's latest book, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published October 4,             
2005. The book-length essay chronicles the year following her husband's death,           
during which Didion's daughter, Quintana, was also gravely ill. The book is both         
a vivid personal account of losing a partner after 40 years of professional             
collaboration and marriage, and a broader attempt to describe the mechanism that         
governs grief and mourning. Although Quintana seemed to be getting better during         
the period the book covers, she died of complications from acute pancreatitis on         
August 26, 2005, in New York City at age 39 after an extended period of illness.         
The New York Times reported that Didion would not change the book to reflect her         
daughter's death. "It's finished," she said.                                             
Didion later adapted the memoir into a one-woman play, which premiered on               
Broadway in 2007 and starred her friend Vanessa Redgrave. The play includes the         
event of Quintana's death, technically spanning its timeline to over a year and         
a half.