Revered American writer and journalist Joan Didion, who blurred the boundaries between personal and political prose, passed away at her home in Manhattan, New York on Thursday, 23 December. She was 87.
Didion died of complications of Parkinson’s disease, an email by Paul Bogaards, an executive at Didion's publisher Knopf, stated to The New York Times.
A formative figure of the 'New Journalism' movement in the 1960s, her trailblazing works, spanning essays, novels, plays and memoirs, astutely explored the disorder of the times and the self.
'The White Album', one her most prominent literary journalistic feats published in 1979, which portrayed the fading counterculture in California of the 60s contained Didion's most recognisable line: 'We tell ourselves stories in order to live.'
Didion's editor at Knopf, Shelley Wanger spoke to the Guardian after her passing and described her as someone who "always seemed able to hear and see what other journalists missed and her range was broad from California, rock and roll, to US culture and politics, Central America to memoir."
Early Life and Pivotal Writings
A fifth generation Californian, she was born in Sacramento in 1934, and would continually dislocate in the US due to her father's job in the Army Air Corps.
"I have always been a writer", Didion wrote in her Pulitzer-finalist grief memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, and she was. In her first notebook at the age of five, the American essayist wrote a story about a woman who thought she was about to freeze to death, but eventually would burn to her end.
After graduating with an English literature degree from University of California, Berkeley, Didion when on to work for Vogue magazine in New York. Following her seven year stint, she published her first novel Run, river.
Her essay-collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, published in 1968, cast a keen glance on the hippies and eccentrics of of Haight-Ashbury. Soon after, Didion's portrayal of the life in Hollywood, Play It As It Lays, came out.
A contemporary author, Martin Amis, described the late writer as a "poet of the Great Californian emptiness," BBC reported.
After fashioning a distinct style of her own in the American literary and journalistic cannon, Didion wrote predominantly non-fiction accounts covering culture and politics.
It was only in 2003, the year when her husband John Gregory Dunne passed away, that she penned her internationally renowned memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. In an interview with Associated Press in 2005, she expressed:
"We have kind of evolved into a society where grieving is totally hidden. It doesn’t take place in our family. It takes place not at all."
This was also the year her daughter, Quintana passed away of acute pancreatitis at 39 years old. Years later, in 2011, Didion chronicled that tumultuous period of her life in 'Blue Nights'.
Reviewing her second memoir comprising of paralysing grief in 2011, John Banville wrote in The New York Times:
"Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, it is most profound, and most provocative, at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life’s worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art."John Banville
The American writer was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2012 and a year later, the White House presented her with the National Medal of Arts.