Positive Exposure

Joan Didion became sane again through sharing personal grief

“I’ve never written for personal reasons; even as a child I had this fantasy that somebody would publish it,” says Joan Didion. “By that, I mean the personal reason I write is to have somebody read it.”

Didion is an American literary icon who has written for numerous publications, covering the political and cultural scene, for more than 40 years. She’s published five novels and eight works of nonfiction. Today, she reads from her latest work, The Year of Magical Thinking, which received the 2005 National Book Award. It’s Didion’s personal account of her year of grief following the death of her husband John Dunne during their daughter Quintana’s battle with critical illness.

Didion says sharing such a personal journey with the world “was absolutely necessary.” “It was realizing that I was crazy that I had to write a book,” she says. She recalls an epiphany at the 2004 Democratic National Convention “When I stood up for the national anthem, I felt myself falling forward,” Didion says. “I just realized that I’d gone slightly crazy, and I had to come terms with what happened.” Didion turned to the only method she knew to figure things out -- she wrote about it. “Writing involves publishing to me, and having somebody read it is the whole impulse that’s in your mind when you’re writing,” she says. “So, it wouldn’t have been complete if I had written it and not exposed it.”

Shortly after the book was published, Quintana died from a sequence of infections and a bout with pneumonia. Still, Didion made countless appearances and interviews, all while dealing with the loss. Currently, she is working on a one-woman show based on Magical Year starring actress Vanessa Redgrave, which will open on Broadway in March. “That was a good thing to do because it was something new,” Didion says, “but now I want to do something else that’s new.” Didion’s reading will be followed by an onstage interview by Texas Monthly editor Mimi Swartz.
Fri., Dec. 7, 7 p.m., 2007

 
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