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Joan Didion  

Noted for her lapidary prose, Joan Didion has written novels,essays and screenplays. Her book "The Year of Magical Thinking" recounts her grief over the sudden death of her husband.
Last Updated: Nov 13, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Joan Didion ( 1934-)


Joan Didion in Her Younger Years


Brief Biography

The noted novelist and essayist Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California in 1934.  Her ancestors came from the mountains of the  Amercian East and like other early settlers made the dangerous trip to "the promised land" of California. Didion's father  was in the Army Air Corps during the second world war.  He moved his family almost constantly, so Didion did not attend school on a regular basis.  The shy little girl wrote things down from an early age and read constantly.  Even as a child she pushed herself to excell--to overcome social anxiety, she acted and gave speeches.  The constant moving made her feel like a stranger to her young peers.  Despite her spotty school attendance, Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A in English in 1956.  Her mother encouraged her to enter an essay contest sponsored by "Vogue" magazine during her senior year.  She did so and won first place.  "Vogue" offered her a job as a research assistant.  Didion promptly took it after she graduated and moved to New York City.  Her seven years at "Vogue" were productive and she worked her way up to associate feature editor.  While living in New York and working at a demanding job, she wrote her first novel "Run, River."  It was published in 1963 when she was only 29.  Fellow writer John Gregory Dunne helped her edit the novel. They became a couple and in 1964 they married .  Didion was very homesick for California and wanted to move back to her home state.  She and her new husband did so in 1964.  In 1968 she published "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" a work of nonfiction about her home state.  In 1970 her novel "Play It As It Lays" was published.  "A Book of Common Prayer" was published seven years later.  Other works followed, all done with the help of her husband.  Didion was a disciplined writer and was fortunate to have a fellow writer as her spouse.  Unable to have children of her own, she and her husband adopted a baby girl and named her Quintana.  The small family lived along the southern  California coast.  She and Dunne wrote a number of screenplays which added to their reputations and income.  Their lives were productive and happy until tragedy struck.  While living in New York, Dunne died of a massive heart attack at the dinner table.  This occured while their daughter was seriously ill with septic shock and pneumonia.  In 2004, Didion published the best selling memior "The Year of Magical Thinking", a narrative about her response to her husband's death and the illness of her daughter.  Tragedy would strike again in 2005 when her daughter, Quintana died at the age of 39 from acute pancreatitis, a very painful disease.  Her death was especially tragic because Quintana was recovering successfully  from brain surgery due to a fall in Los Angeles airport.  In 2011, Didion wrote about her daughter's death in the book "Blue Nights."  Didion is now in her early 80's and is still a writer of interest.  Her many interviews with commentators can be found on Youtube.  Her nephew, Griffin Dunne directed a documentary about his aunt which can be found on Netflix.


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