Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Joan Didion, peerless prose stylist, dies at 87 | AP News

NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – Joan Didion is a respected author and essayist whose precise social and personal commentary on classics such as The White Album and The Year of Magical Thinking have made her a uniquely astute critic of turbulent times. died. She was 87 years old.

Publisher Didion Penguin Random House announced the author’s death on Thursday. She died from complications from Parkinson’s disease, the company said.

“Didion was one of the country’s most astute writers and astute observers. Her best-selling artwork, commentary and memoir have won numerous awards and are considered modern classics, ”Penguin Random House said in a statement.

Along with Tom Wolfe, Nora Efron and Gay Talese, Didion ruled a pantheon of “new journalists” that emerged in the 1960s and linked literary style to journalistic reporting. Tiny and fragile, even in her youth, with large sad eyes, often hidden behind sunglasses, and a soft, deliberate manner of speech, she was a writer, playwright and essayist who once remarked that “I am so physically small, so unobtrusive in temperament. and so neurotically unintelligible that people tend to forget that my presence is contrary to their interests. “

Or, as she put it more popularly, “Writers always sell someone.”

Didion received the National Medal for the Humanities in 2012 when she was praised for dedicating “her life to noticing what other people try not to see.” For decades, she has been engaged in cold and ruthless analysis of politics and culture, from hippies to presidential campaigns and the kidnapping of Patty Hirst, as well as her distrust of official stories.

Slouching to Bethlehem, The White Album and other books have become major compilations of literary journalism, with notable works, including its disruption of Hollywood politics in Good Citizens and a prophetic opposition to the 1989 consensus that five young black and Hispanic men raped men in 1989. a white runner in Central Park (the sentence was later overturned and they were released from prison).

Didion was equally merciless to her own difficulties. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was in her 30s, and around the same time, she had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a mental hospital in Santa Monica, California, where her outlook was diagnosed as “fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic and depressive. ” In her 70s, she spoke of personal tragedy in her heartbreaking 2005 work A Year of Magical Thinking, a narrative shaped out of the chaos of grief that followed the death of her husband and writer John Gregory Dunn. It won a National Book Award and she adapted it as a Broadway play by One Woman with Vanessa Redgrave.

Dunn passed out in 2003 at their desk and died of a heart attack while their daughter, Quintana Roo, Dunn Michael, fell seriously ill in the hospital. The memoir was a bestselling and almost instantaneous standard for the kind of work that people instinctively gravitate toward after losing a loved one. Didion said she thought of the work as evidence of a specific time; Unfortunately, Magical Thinking became obsolete shortly after its publication. Quintana died in the summer of 2005 at the age of 39 from acute pancreatitis. Didion wrote about her daughter’s death in the 2011 publication Blue Nights.

“We have become, as it were, a society in which grief is completely hidden. This does not happen in our family. It doesn’t happen at all, ”she told The Associated Press in 2005. Didion spent her final years in New York, but was most identified with her home state of California, “a hologram that dematerializes as I pass through it.” It was the setting for her most famous novel, the desperate Play As Is, as well as many of her essays.

“California belongs to Joan Didion,” wrote New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani. “Not California, where everyone wears aviator sunglasses, owns a hot tub, and buys clothes on Rodeo Drive. But California in the sense of the West. The Old West, where the “Manifesto of Destiny” was an almost tangible concept, somehow connected with the land, the climate and one’s own family. ”

Didion’s themes also included earthquakes, movie stars and Cuban exiles, but common themes emerged: the need to bring order where there is no order, the gap between accepted wisdom and real life, how people deceive themselves and others to believe in the world can be explained by direct a narrative line. Much of her non-fiction has been compiled in 2006’s We Tell Ourselves Stories to Live, named after the opening sentence of her famous title essay from The White Album, evidence that a woman was looking for the truth behind the truth. …

“We are looking for a sermon on suicide, a social or moral lesson in killing five,” she wrote. “We live as a whole, especially if we are writers, superimposing a narrative line on disparate images, with ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the fluid phantasmagoria that is our actual experience.”

She has been a lifelong explorer, writing about a trip to war-torn El Salvador in the nonfiction El Salvador and completing A Book of Common Prayer after a disastrous trip to the Colombia Film Festival in the early 1970s. South and West: From a Notebook, observations from a trip to the American South, came out in 2017, and the same year was released a documentary by Griffin’s nephew Dunn, Joan Didion: The Center Will Fail. In 2019, the Library of America began collecting her work in bound volumes.

Didion prided herself on being an outsider who was more comfortable with service staff at a gas station than with celebrities. But she and her husband, whose brother was the writer-journalist Dominic Dunn, had a good position in high society. In California, they talked, in particular, with Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg, and the young Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter in their home. They later lived in a spacious apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, knew the right people, and made a successful screenwriting career, collaborating on Panic at Needle Park, the remake of A Star is Born and the adaptation of Play As It Is and True Confessions. “.

Didion was born in 1934 in Sacramento, California, a descendant of pioneers who traveled with the infamous Donner Party. From an early age he was fond of books. Her mother encouraged her to write to fill the time, and she was particularly impressed by Ernest Hemingway’s prose, whose brief rhythms outpaced her own. 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 at Berkeley in 1956 and moved to New York to work for Vogue after winning a magazine-sponsored writing competition.

Conservative in her early years, voting for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and writing an essay for the National Review by William F. Buckley, Didion later became more liberal, attacking the role of religion in politics and “the establishment’s increasingly theatrical insistence” that the president Clinton was removed from office for an affair with Monica Lewinsky. She was particularly scathing about the quality of political reporting, ridiculing the “baseball inside” journalism of presidential campaigns and rejecting Bob Woodward’s bestsellers as banal and voyeuristic “political pornography.”

Didion married Dunn, whom she met at a dinner party, in 1964. Two years later, they adopted a girl, Quintana Roo. The author couples are notorious for their explosiveness, whether it’s the drunken brawl between Lillian Hellman and Dashil Hammett or the infidelity and suicidal demons of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. But despite their own conflicts, Didion says that he and Dunn grew up and endured.

“Whatever the problem we were, we weren’t writers,” she told Associated Press. “What was good for one is good for another.”


Hillel Italy, a writer for the national Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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