Hanging Out With Joan Didion: What I Learned About Writing From an American Master

“I arranged to meet Joan Didion in 1971 after reading Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I found her essays hypnotic, in a voice I’d never heard, expressing ideas I knew were true but couldn’t have articulated. I was reporting for several magazines and asked a colleague who’d met her to introduce us. He gave me her number and when I was in LA, I took a deep breath, dialed it, and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, picked up the phone. I asked for Joan Didion. … Although she’s shy and can be reticent with strangers, we had much in common: we’d grown up in California, gone to Berkeley, joined a sorority and quit, majored in English and studied with Mark Schorer but in different decades—she in the 1950s, I in the 60s. We talked and laughed until the early hours, and in the many dinners and visits that followed, over more than four decades, we spoke about babies, cooking, humorous or shocking news, and always, we spoke about writing. She’s probably the most imitated writer since Hemingway, and her voice, like his, is catchy but can’t be imitated without the attempt being obvious. I’ve interviewed her many times for publications over the years, though, and found that the habits and practices she described could be helpful in developing and sharpening one’s own writing. 1.  First Person Singular.  The most radical aspect of her voice when she started writing for magazines in the 1960s was that she, Joan, spoke to you, the reader, as if grabbing you by the lapels. This was at a time when, at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where I was studying, it was drummed into us that we must never use the word ‘I.’ We must be ‘objective.’ The closest a journalist could come to expressing a personal impression was to refer to oneself as ‘this reporter.’ The title of the latest book of Didion’s early work is: Let Me Tell You What I Mean. That could have been the mission statement of New Journalism. … Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson not only wrote ‘I’ but created characters, even caricatures, of themselves: Wolfe in the white suit, Hunter as ‘Raoul Duke,’ diving headfirst into danger and drugs. …”
Vogue: Joan Didion’s New Essay Collection Reveals The Process Of A Legendary Writer At Work

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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1 Response to Hanging Out With Joan Didion: What I Learned About Writing From an American Master

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