Joan Didion: US literary icon dies at 87on December 23, 2021 at 7:14 pm

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She was known for chronicling US culture and was a screenwriter for the 1976 film A Star is Born.

Joan Didion

Image source, Getty Images

Joan Didion, a literary icon who chronicled 60s and 70s US culture, with screenwriting credits including 1976 film A Star Is Born, has died aged 87.

The incisive US novelist and essayist examined the fragmentation of US life in books like 1968’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 1979’s The White Album.

Her National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking in 2005 was inspired by the death of her husband.

She died as a result of Parkinson’s disease, her publisher Knopf said.

“Didion was one of the country’s most trenchant writers and astute observers,” a statement said. “Her best-selling works of fiction, commentary and memoir have received numerous honours and are considered modern classics.”

Didion received the National Medal of Arts in 2013 from US President Barack Obama, who described her at the time as “one of the most celebrated American writers of her generation” and “one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture”.

Joan Didion in 1981

Image source, Getty Images

Born in Sacramento in 1934, she studied at the University of California, Berkeley and joined Vogue Magazine after graduation, leading to her career as a journalist and writer.

Her novels included 1970’s Play It as It Lays, which explored and exposed Hollywood film culture. Fellow author Martin Amis once described her as a “poet of the Great Californian Emptiness”.

She also adapted The Year of Magical Thinking, her award-winning account of mourning husband John Gregory Dunne, for the stage. Vanessa Redgrave starred in the inaugural production on Broadway in 2007.

Also that year, Didion was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters “for her distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence”.

Grief was to be an unwanted inspiration again after her adopted daughter Quintana Roo died of acute pancreatitis at the age of 39. Didion channelled her loss into the 2011 memoir Blue Nights.

Shelley Wagner, her editor at Knopf, said Didion had been “a wise and subtle teller of truths”.

“We will mourn her death but celebrate her life, knowing that her work will inspire generations of readers and writers to come,” Ms Wagner added.

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