Joan Didion Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 been accelerated by her studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where she majored in literature; read the works of Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and Albert Camus; moved out of her sorority house; and did not, as she points out with some regret, make Phi Beta Kappa. She did, however, win first prize in Vogue’s Prix de Paris contest. Given as an award the choice of a trip to Paris or a job on the magazine, Didion chose the more practical option and moved to New York.

At Vogue, Didion learned to write for the general public, and she began writing for several other magazines as well. She also seriously began writing fiction,...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 477 words.)


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

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.

The 1960’s

Run River (1963), Didion’s California novel (covering the...

(The entire section is 651 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 1013 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, on December 5, 1934, into a family that had put down roots in the region during the...

(The entire section is 511 words.)