How Joan Didion Became Joan Didion

Joan Didion

“Didion was one of the boys, clearly, in the sense that men had noticed her writing and wanted to publish her. But she also couldn’t quite fit into their regime.” An excerpt from Michelle Dean’s new book, Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion.

By 1964, just three years after she started writing searching personal essays for Vogue, Joan Didion was plainly itching to write about something other than herself. Her life was also changing. She had published a slim novel, Run River, whose journey to the bookstore had been a grand disappointment. The title had been chosen by the publisher, and the editor had altered the form of the novel entirely, changing its experimental structure into something quite conventional. She had also married John Gregory Dunne, a sometime friend, after he’d supported her through the end of a long love affair. The pair decided to quit their magazine jobs and move to California, where they had a vague plan to make careers in television.

Vogue, apparently unwilling to cut apron strings altogether, asked Didion to begin reviewing films for it. In her opening column for 1964, written just a month before she married, Didion declared her critical approach would be somewhat democratic:

She went on to cast positive votes for The Philadelphia Story, The Spirit of St Louis, and Charade. Pauline Kael had not yet quite broken through to mainstream movie reviewing and I Lost It at the Movies hadn’t yet been published, but we can see in Didion’s words a relatively similar approach. She too would spend her career insisting there were moments of brilliance even in what was unquestionably trash.

Continued at Flipboard