Like most writers, Didion seems taken by the ways in which memory and space interact with each other, and how they warp one another. She reflects on her own associations with the space, one she only saw while being driven down Highway 1, which gave it a mystical, fantastical feel as it floated above the fog in golden light. She recounts seeing it from up close for the first time, with a niece from Connecticut, concluding that it was perhaps better seen from afar.
She argues against a kind of objectivity that gets in the way of engaging, interesting writing and advocates instead for underground papers. Didion talks about how she learnt the nuances of language in an unexpected way, while writing copy for Vogue magazine.
And deploy them she does. What this collection does that is different from other collections of her essays is provide a compendium of how she became the writer she is. Didion reflects on formative experiences in her journey as a writer in order to illustrate how she did one of the hardest things a writer must do — develop a perspective.
This memoir merely takes a different medium—and outsources its authorship to a trusted member of the family. Again: Controlled confession. Strategic revelation. Both are loving tributes to exceptional writers featuring testimony from luminaries across the culture.
The Center Will Not Hold , however, is also that rarest of things: an elegy to someone who is still alive. And, in that, it makes no pretense of objectivity. The most striking elements of the film, however, are the interviews Dunne conducted with Didion herself, in her New York City apartment.
As she speaks, clad in cashmere and perched on a couch, Didion, now 82, swoops her hands through the air, elegantly but also wildly, as if seeking words that are just beyond her grasp—as if outlining an image that only she can see. Her face is intensely expressive. She talks about her husband John, her partner in life and in writing.
Didion, all these years later, explains to her nephew the logic of that stinging sentence. At that moment. The image shimmers. No, she corrects: ice cream. And though Didion may be a singular kind of celebrity, she has also, the film makes clear, been one in a decidedly conventional manner, as well.
In , the couple contracted with a team of carpenters to do a remodel of their beachside house in Malibu: a place carved into an oceanside cliff, its backyard the expansive Pacific. The contractor, it turns out, was Harrison Ford. So the consummate outsider, for all her Sphinxian mystique, was in many ways the consummate insider: another Hollywood power-player, remodeling her kitchen and laughing at the dinner party.
A subject of photos as well as an observer of them. And her aura of easy cool, of course, would only expand the older she got. She is the subject of ephemeral enthusiasms. To be an author, today, is generally to be required, repeatedly, to acquiesce: to give in to demands of omnipresence, of performative relatability. To live-tweet The Bachelor. To write op-eds in the Times. To accept that being part of the zeitgeist requires that one first accept the terms of geist iness: disembodied, environmental, miasmic.
Writer and friend John Gregory Dunne helped her edit the book, and the two moved into an apartment together. A year later they married, and Didion returned to California with her new husband. The two wrote many newsstand-magazine assignments. Didion's book-length essay Salvador was written after a two-week trip to El Salvador with her husband. The next year, she published the novel Democracy , the story of a long but unrequited love affair between a wealthy heiress and an older man, a CIA officer, against the background of the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
Her nonfiction book Miami looked at the Cuban expatriate community in that city. In a prescient New York Review of Books piece of , a year after the various trials of the Central Park Five had ended, Didion dissected serious flaws in the prosecution's case, becoming the earliest mainstream writer to view the guilty verdicts as a miscarriage of justice. In , she published After Henry , a collection of twelve geographical essays and a personal memorial for Henry Robbins, who was Didion's friend and editor from until his death in Dunne and Didion worked closely together for most of their careers.
Much of their writing is therefore intertwined. They co-wrote a number of screenplays , including a film adaptation of her novel Play It as It Lays that starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld. Didion began writing The Year of Magical Thinking , a narrative of her response to the death of her husband and the severe illness of their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, on October 4, , and finished the manuscript 88 days later on New Year's Eve.
Although she was hesitant to write for the theater, she has since found the genre, which was new to her, quite exciting. It remains untitled. Sources say it may trace the paper's dogged reportage on the Watergate scandal which led to President Richard Nixon 's resignation. In , Knopf published Blue Nights , a memoir about aging. It addresses their relationship with "stunning frankness. New Journalism seeks to communicate facts through narrative storytelling and literary techniques.
This style is also described as creative nonfiction , intimate journalism, or literary nonfiction. It is a popular moment in the long history of literary journalism in America. Tom Wolfe , who along with E. Johnson edited the anthology The New Journalism and wrote a manifesto for the style that popularized the term, said "it is possible to write journalism that would It gives the author more creative freedom, helping to represent the truth and reality through the author's eyes.
Exhibiting subjectivity is a major theme in New Journalism, where the author's voice is critical to the opinions the reader forms. Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem exemplifies much of what New Journalism represents as it explores the cultural values and experiences of American life in the s. She includes her personal feelings and memories in this first-person narrative, describing the chaos of individuals and the way in which they perceive the world. Rejecting conventional journalism, she created a subjective approach to essays, a style that was her own.
Didion views the structure of the sentence as essential to what she is conveying in her work. In the New York Times article "Why I Write" ,  Didion remarks, "To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what's going on in the picture.
Didion is heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway , whose writing taught her the importance of how sentences work in a text. Other influences include writer Henry James , who wrote "perfect, indirect, complicated sentences", and George Eliot. Because she believes it is the media that tells us how to live, Didion has become an observer of journalists themselves.
Rituals are a part of Didion's creative process. At the end of the day, she must take a break from writing to remove herself from the "pages". She spends a great deal of time cutting out and editing her prose before concluding her evening. She begins the next day looking over the previous evening's work, making further changes. As the process culminates, she feels it is necessary to sleep in the same room as her book.
She says, "That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're right next to it. In a notorious essay, "Joan Didion: Only Disconnect", Barbara Grizzuti Harrison called Didion a " neurasthenic Cher " whose style was "a bag of tricks" and whose "subject is always herself". In , she was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal.
In , she's received the St. From the citation: "An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, her 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. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America. He was the younger brother of the author, businessman and television mystery show host Dominick Dunne.
The couple married in and moved to Los Angeles, intending to stay only temporarily, but California ultimately became their home for the next 20 years. Their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne was adopted in In the title essay of The White Album , Didion documents a nervous breakdown she experienced in the summer of After undergoing psychiatric evaluation, she was diagnosed as having had an attack of vertigo and nausea.
She was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Two tragedies struck Didion in the space of fewer than two years. On December 30, , while their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne lay comatose in the ICU with septic shock resulting from pneumonia , her husband suffered a fatal heart attack at the dinner table.
Didion delayed his funeral arrangements for approximately three months until Quintana was well enough to attend. Visiting Los Angeles after her father's funeral, Quintana fell at the airport, hit her head on the pavement and suffered a massive hematoma , requiring six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center. She was The deaths of her husband and her daughter are also further explored, adding context to her books The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. American writer. Didion at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Novelist memoirist essayist. Memoir drama. John Gregory Dunne. Let me show you what I mean by pictures in the mind. About the pictures: the first was of white space.
Empty space. The second picture did. This second picture was of something actually witnessed. A young woman with long hair and a short white halter dress walks through the casino at the Riviera in Las Vegas at one in the morning. She crosses the casino alone and picks up a house telephone.
I know nothing about her. Who is paging her? Why is she here to be paged? How exactly did she come to this? It was precisely this moment in Las Vegas that made Play It as It Lays begin to tell itself to me, but the moment appears in the novel only obliquely, in a chapter which begins:.
Maria made a list of things she would never do. She would never: ball at a party, do S-M unless she wanted to, borrow furs from Abe Lipsey, deal. She would never: carry a Yorkshire in Beverly Hills. As a matter of fact one of these pictures was of that Bevatron I mentioned, although I would be hard put to tell you a story in which nuclear energy figures.
Another was a newspaper photograph of a hijacked burning on the desert in the Middle East. Another was the night view from a room in which I once spent a week with paratyphoid, a hotel room on the Colombian coast. My husband and I seemed to be on the Colombian coast representing the United States of America at a film festival I recall invoking the name Jack Valenti a lot, as if its reiteration could make me well , and it was a bad place to have fever, not only because my indisposition offended our hosts but because every night in this hotel the generator failed.
The lights went out. The elevator stopped. My husband would go to the event of the evening and make excuses for me and I would stay alone in this hotel room, in the dark. The view from that window definitely figures in A Book of Common Prayer, as does the burning , and yet none of these pictures told me the story I needed.
The picture that did, the picture that shimmered and made these other images coalesce, was of the Panama airport at a. I lived in that airport for several years. I can still feel the hot air when I step off the plane, can see the heat already rising off the tarmac at a. I can feel the skirt damp and wrinkled on my legs.
I can feel the asphalt stick to my sandals. I remember the big tail of a Pan American plane floating motionless down at the end of the tarmac. I remember the sound of a slot machine in the waiting room. I could tell you that I remember a particular woman in the airport, an American woman, a norteamericana, a thin norteamericana about forty who wore a big square emerald in lieu of a wedding ring, but there was no such woman there.
I put this woman in the airport later. I made this woman up, just as I later made up a country to put the airport in, and a family to run the country. This woman in the airport is neither catching a plane nor meeting one. She is ordering tea in the airport coffee shop. Why is this woman in this airport? Why is she going nowhere, where has she been? Where did she get that big emerald? What derangement, or disassociation, makes her believe that her will to see the water boiled can possibly prevail?
She had been going to one airport or another for four months, one could see it, looking at the visas on her passport. These lines appear about halfway through A Book of Common Prayer, but I wrote them during the second week I worked on the book, long before I had any idea where Charlotte Douglas had been or why she went to airports.
Until I wrote these lines I had no character called Victor in mind: the necessity for mentioning a name, and the name Victor, occurred to me as I wrote the sentence. I knew why Charlotte went to the airport sounded incomplete. I knew why Charlotte went to the airport even if Victor did not carried a little more narrative drive. But there it was:. Who was Victor? Who was this narrator? Why was this narrator telling me this story?
Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel. Joan Didion. California cool and Magical Thinking: Joan Didion at Star quality … Joan Didion, c Whether reporting from the trippy heart of s counterculture or covering the trial of the Central Park Five, the legendary essayist brings a spirit of restless inquiry to all her writing Read an exclusive extract from new essay collection Let Me Tell You What I Mean below.
Alex Clark. Mon 8 Feb
This is a must read for historical buffs. In it she defines the parameters of self-respect, and preaches the importance of character. They know the price of things. I first read this essay during a dark period in my life, when I thought none of my actions had consequences. Man, was I ever wrong. The price I paid was heavy, and when I decided to shape up, I kept a copy of the above quote in my wallet to remind myself never again to compromise my integrity.
Want a kick-ass Easter egg? Did you know the essay first appeared in the pages of Vogue back in ? Yup, Didion worked there after she won a competition in college. This essay is so legendary, it can be viewed on Vogue. Check it out! Technically this next selection on our list is a book, not an essay.
But hear me out. Miami began to change when many Cubans sought asylum in the Sunshine State back in the early 60s. This is my favorite Joan Didion essay because she describes her loss of innocence. In this essay she describes the first time she saw John Wayne in the summer of , when she was eight years old and watching a film called War of the Wildcats. She, like many others, did not believe John Wayne could fall ill and die.
And when it happened, it called into question everything she believed. Forty plus years later, this essay still inspires much debate. Much like Miami , Didion will surprise you with her point of view. Fitting in with the overarching theme of After Henry , Didion is relentless in her quest to deconstruct media figures in order to render them human. Didion tries to rectify the images of Hearst that were shown to the American public: of Hearst in her first communion dress and then as an adult in an FBI wanted flyer.
The title of this essay is inspired by the movie of the same name in which the main heroine, Mary Robbins, falls in love with a bandit. It begins with her meeting Jim Morrison during a recording session for The Doors. It felt to her like America was somehow coming apart and, as she put it, writing had become an "irrelevant act.
The result of weeks of hanging about in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was perhaps her most famous magazine essay, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The article appears, on the surface, to have little or no structure. It opens with passages in which Didion evokes, with carefully chosen details, how in the "cold late spring of " America was in a time of bleak despair and "adolescents drifted from city to torn city. The article departed from standard journalistic practice.
At one point she did attempt to interview a policeman who had patrolled the neighborhood of the hippies, but he seemed to panic and stopped talking to her. She was accused of being a "media poisoner" by members of The Diggers, an anarchic group of hippies. So she hung out and listened, not interviewing anyone so much as just observing in the moment. Her observations were presented starkly as what was said and seen in her presence. It was up to the reader to draw deeper meaning.
After the article was published in the Saturday Evening Post, Didion said many readers didn't grasp that she was writing about something "more general than a handful of children wearing mandalas on their forehead. Didion's technique, coupled with her distinct personality and mentions of her own anxiety, had created something of a template for later work. She continued writing journalistic essays for magazines. Over time she would become known for her observations of distinctly American events, ranging from the Manson murders to the increasingly bitter national politics of the late s to the scandals of Bill Clinton.
They collaborated on a screenplay for a film adaptation of the novel. The work adapting a book about ill-fated anchorwoman Jessica Savitch turned into a Hollywood saga in which they wrote and got paid for numerous drafts before the film finally emerged as "Up Close and Personal.
Didion and Dunne moved back to New York City in the s. Their daughter Quintana became seriously ill in , and after visiting her at the hospital, the couple returned to their apartment where Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack. Didion wrote a book about dealing with her grief, The Year of Magical Thinking , published in Tragedy struck again when Quintana, having recovered from a serious illness, fell at Los Angeles airport and suffered a serious brain injury.
She seemed to be recovering her health but again became very ill and died in August Though her daughter died before the publication of The Year of Magical Thinking , she told The New York Times she hadn't considered changing the manuscript. She later wrote a second book about dealing with grief, Blue Nights , published in In , Didion published a book of nonfiction, South and West: From a Notebook , an account of travels in the American South constructed from notes she had written decades earlier.
Writing in The New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani said what Didion wrote about travels in Alabama and Mississippi in was prescient, and seemed to point to much more modern divisions in American society. Share Flipboard Email.
Robert McNamara. History Expert. Robert J. McNamara is a history expert and former magazine journalist. He was Amazon. Updated February 04, Known For: Helped transform journalism in the s with her sharply crafted essays that evoked America in crisis. Honors: Multiple honorary degrees and writing awards, including the National Humanities Medal awarded by President Barack Obama in