Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Compensating for her own physical frailty and fears persisting from childhood, Joan Didion has long identified with the resilience of her great-great-great-grandmother, who in 1846 left the Donner wagon train and followed a northern pass through the Sierras just before a Nevada blizzard isolated the main party and drove some of them eventually to cannibalism. That frontier example sustained Didion as her father, Frank Didion, an Army Air Corps officer, moved the family from base to base during World War II. She and her brother entertained themselves by watching films, and her mother advised her to keep busy by writing stories. Her sense of insecurity diminished only after their return to Sacramento, where the family land went back five generations. What remained, however, was her sense of the theatrical. Stories of her pioneer ancestors always included near disasters, life on the edge. Her early fears, therefore, of rattlesnakes, collapsing bridges, and atomic bombs came only in part from reality. They came also from an imagination stirred to excitement but not wholly believing in actual tragedy. Added to her imagination is a curiosity which, while she was an eighth-grader, led her, notepad in hand, to walk calmly into the Pacific Ocean: It was a life wish, not a death wish. A wave dumped her back onto shore.
During Didion’s senior year at the University...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What sustains Didion in her writing is her faith in the possibility of a better life than what people allow one another to live. That faith rises from her experience of history. All persons, of whatever gender, suffer from natural limitations, reinforced by their own refusals to admit to those imperfections. Among Didion’s exceptions are those women able to maintain their integrity, moral courage, and vision of a more mutually considerate society, under the most trying circumstances. Their resilience, rather than their unremitting agony, is only gradually perceived because it is only slowly earned, with much difficulty.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Joan Didion was born to Frank Reese and Eduene Jerrett Didion on December 5, 1934, in Sacramento, California. Both the date and the place are significant. Though Didion had just turned seven when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, she is not, strictly speaking, a child of the post-World War II generation. This fact might explain some of her detachment from the 1960’s and some of the nostalgia she evidently feels even when she is pointing out the shortcomings of the more traditional and more orderly values of prewar America.
Didion’s place of birth is even more important. Didion is a child of the West—not the West of Los Angeles, but of the more pastoral Sacramento Valley. The land on which Didion lived had been in her family for five generations, and as a child, she was expected to absorb the myth that America was a new Eden. In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion reports that her Episcopal Sunday school teacher used to ask the children, “In what ways does the Holy Land resemble the Sacramento Valley?” Didion explores—and largely explodes—the myth of the Sacramento Valley as Eden in her first novel, Run River. Eden, however, is not lost—or rejected—without some sense of regret, and Didion’s novel reflects nostalgia for the lost paradise and the passing of innocence.
Didion’s intellectual break from a more traditional world may have begun in high school, when she discovered literature, and it must have...
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Joan Didion is a California native, and she writes novels about California women. Her women are often lost and lonely and unhappy. When they leave their native state, they wander into a Third World country and remain there, victims of the lack of any real home in the fragmented society of late twentieth century America. Although Didion claims that her novels are the most important part of her work, it is her essays which have received the most praise from critics. Her earliest recognition came when she won the Vogue magazine Prix de Paris for an essay on a California architect, William Wilson Wurster. She has since covered political campaigns, interviewed famous people, recorded social phenomena such as the hippie movement in San Francisco, and written about places she has been. Although she has described Honolulu, El Salvador, Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C., it is her native state that is most often the subject or the setting for her highly praised nonfiction.
Didion grew up in Sacramento and attended the University of California at Berkeley. Her writing career began there with a short story published in a campus magazine. After graduation, she moved east to work on Vogue and to live in New York City for almost ten years. There she met John Gregory Dunne, a fellow writer, and they married and came back to live in Los Angeles....
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Biography (The Sixties in America)
Joan Didion, an only child, grew up in an old California family and steeped herself in the history of the West. She attended high school in California and was graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in English. In 1956, she won Vogue magazine’s Prix de Paris prize for young writers and moved to New York to work as a journalist, becoming a novelist in the early 1960’s. The city, she has said, represented to her the whole gamut of experiences a young writer should encounter. She wrote feature pieces for National Review and Mademoiselle.
Run River (1963), Didion’s California novel (covering the years 1938-1959), received mixed reviews and relatively little attention. Beginning in the mid-1960’s, however, her pieces in The Saturday Evening Post distinguished her as one of the United States’ foremost essayists—one of the first to provide incisive and novelistic commentary on the hippies in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco and on related episodes in what she deemed the “California dream.” An acute observer with a good ear for 1960’s speech rhythms, Didion captured both the joy of American iconoclasts and the apocalyptic mood that resulted from the assassinations of...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
In post-World War II American letters, Joan Didion (DIHD-ee-on) emerged as a prominent voice. She was born in 1934 to Frank Reese and Eduene Jerret Didion. As she noted in various essays, Didion was a child who developed a strong sense of place, in terms of both heredity and landscape. Her ancestors were among the unfortunate Donner-Reed party, and she represents a fifth generation of a family which has lived in the Sacramento Valley, a location which figures prominently in many of her works.
From 1942 to 1944, Didion’s family followed her father on four moves to different Air Corps bases in Washington, North Carolina, and Colorado. Didion’s sense of dislocation was acute, even after the family returned to Sacramento, and the ten-year-old girl began writing stories. A loner through junior high school, Didion spent much of her time reading writers such as Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway, both of whom made lasting impressions on her. She matriculated to C. K. McClatchy Senior High School and later attended the University of California, Berkeley, from 1952 to 1956.
At Berkeley, Didion majored in English literature, and she later claimed that many of her adult attitudes were shaped by her experiences in college. In 1956, during her senior year, Didion won first place in a Vogue writing contest with an essay about William Wilson...
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Didion is one of the most highly regarded contemporary American writers of essays and novels. In her writing she focuses on the disintegration of American morals in both the public and private spheres and the cultural chaos that results from individual and societal fragmentation, using her own subjective experiences and observations as a vantage point. -- Joan Didion Criticism
Didion’s achievements are somewhat paradoxical. Despite her claims that she speaks only for herself, she became a spokesperson for the anxiety-ridden generation of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; as surely as F. Scott Fitzgerald became the chronicler of the Jazz Age, she became the chronicler of a generation living, in her terms, “close to the edge.” Didion developed a reputation for cool, detached observation and for her syncopated but elegant style. Poet James Dickey called her “the finest woman prose stylist writing in English today,” and even some who dismiss her as intellectually shallow respect her craftsmanship. Her accomplishments were formally recognized in 1996 when she was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for outstanding contributions to the arts. Previous recipients have included Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, and Mary McCarthy. -- Joan Didion Biography
After Henry (Magill’s Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 1)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 129)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 14)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 3)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 32)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 32)
Joan Didion Criticism (Vol. 8)
Evelyn Waugh Criticism | Joan Didion (Review Date 11 December 1995)
J. D. Salinger Criticism | Joan Didion
Joan Didion Criticism | Anne Hulbert
Norman Mailer Criticism | Joan Didion
Norman Mailer Criticism | Joan Didion (essay Date 6 October 1996)
V. S. Naipaul Criticism | Joan Didion
Woody Allen Criticism | Joan Didion
Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, on December 5, 1934, into a family that had put down roots in the region during the mid-nineteenth century. Her great-great-great-grandmother, Nancy Hardin Cornwall, had travelled part of the way west with the members of the ill-fated Donner-Reed wagon train, most of whom died while trapped in the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1846-47. Sensibly, as it proved, Didion's ancestor parted company with the main group and took the northern trail through Oregon. Critics often refer to this ancestral heritage, arguing that Didion has the frontier in her blood and the confidence to take her own course. Both thematically and stylistically, these are observations which are relevant to a study of the novel Democracy.
Didion's childhood became nomadic during World War II. Her father was moved from one Air Corps base to another, and the family had spells in Washington, North Carolina, and Colorado. By the time they were re-settled in Sacramento, Didion was already developing a serious interest in writing. As a young teenager she spent hours typing out entire chapters from the novels of Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. She enrolled at the University of California in February, 1953, and it was there, at Berkeley, that she had the first of her own works published—a short story entitled "Sunset," which appeared in the student magazine Occident.
In her senior year Didion won...
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