Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, to parents Frank Reese and Eduene (née Jerrett) Didion. Didion recalls writing things down as early as age five, though she claims that she never saw herself as a writer until after being published. She read everything she could get her hands on after learning how to read and even needed written permission from her mother to borrow adult books, biographies especially, from the library at a young age. With this, she identified herself as being a "shy, bookish child", who pushed herself to overcome these personal obstacles through acting and public speaking.
In 1956, Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in English. During her senior year, she won first place in an essay contest sponsored by Vogue, with the prize of a job at the magazine.
For two years at Vogue, Didion worked her way up from promotional copywriter to associate feature editor. While there, she wrote her first novel, Run, River, which was published in 1963. She returned to California with her new husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and in 1968, published Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her first work of non-fiction, a collection of magazine pieces about her experiences in California.
In 1979, she published The White Album, another collection of magazine pieces from Life, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.
Play It As It Lays, set in Hollywood, was published in 1970 and A Book of Common Prayer was published in 1977. Her 1983 essay,Salvador, was written after a two-week long trip to El Salvador with her husband. She also wrote Democracy in 1984 which deals with her concern for the loss of society's traditional values. Her 1987 nonfiction book, Miami, looked at the Cuban expatriate community in Miami. In 1992, she published After Henry, a collection of twelve geographical essays. In 1996, she published The Last Thing He Wanted, a romantic thriller.
Dunne and Didion worked closely together for most of their careers, and indeed much of their writing is intertwined. With Dunne, Didion co-wrote a number of screenplays, including an adaptation of her novel Play It As It Lays. She and Dunne also spent eight years adapting the biography of journalist Jessica Savitch into the film Up Close & Personal.
Didion began writing The Year of Magical Thinking, a narrative of her response to the death of her husband and severe illness of their daughter, Quintana, on October 4, 2004, and finished 88 days later on New Year's Eve. She went on a book tour following the release of this memoir, doing many readings and interviews to promote it. She has said that she found the process very "therapeutic" during her period of mourning.
In 2006, Everyman's Library published We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, a compendium of much of Didion's writing, including the full content of her first seven published nonfiction books Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Salvador, Miami, After Henry, Political Fictions, and Where I Was From, with an introduction by her contemporary, the noted critic John Leonard.
In 2007, she began working on a one-woman adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking. Produced by Scott Rudin, this Broadway play featured Vanessa Redgrave. Although at first she was hesitant about the idea of writing a play, she has since found this new genre to be quite exciting.
Didion wrote early drafts of the screen play for an HBO biopic directed by Robert Benton on the famous newspaper dame Katharine Graham. It currently remains untitled. Sources say it may trace Graham's paper, The Washington Post, in its dogged reportage on the Watergate scandal which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. However, Didion is no longer working on that project.
In 2011, Knopf published Blue Nights, a memoir about aging. The book focuses on Didion's daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, who died just before her previous memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published. It addresses their relationship with “stunning frankness.” More generally, the book speaks to the anxieties Didion experienced about having and raising a child, and also about the aging process.