Joan Didion, the writer who was discarded by Stanford University.

Joan Didion

I am always writing for myself.
Joan Didion

Two events marked the beginning of Joan Didion's (United States, 1934-2021) writing career: 1) being rejected by Stanford University and 2) her mother convincing her to send an article to the legendary Vogue magazine. The former is relevant since Didion was one of the writers most recognized for her contributions to American culture. However, the writer was rejected in 1952 with a letter stating that, despite meeting the minimum requirements, it was impossible to admit her to one of the most prestigious universities in California.1.

 The event marked the writer's early youth -so much so that she even thought of suicide-, but it also led her to assimilate failure as part of life and of the learning that everyone, in their own way, must experience to choose their own path, since, as Didion says: "it is difficult enough to find out what your role in life is without being given someone else's script on top of it".

Possessing a sensitive character and a sober personality, Didion would carry forward the idea of success in relation to her freedom of thought and desires. This would lead her to try her hand at an article for Vogue magazine that dealt with self-love.2. She was accepted. Soon Didion was in the public eye as a journalist who armored herself with a unique and refined style. 

Also a visionary of the loss of values in American society, Joan Didion was recognized for her intelligent and concise texts that revealed the problems faced by her country in the sixties: violence, drugs and weapons were for Didion the germ of a "cancer" that was far from the simple idea of hippie liberation and rock and roll. She, her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne and her daughter found themselves immersed in this period, surrounded by artists such as the singer Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or the filmmaker Roman Polanski. 

Intimately close to atrocious events such as the murder of filmmaker Polanski's wife by the so-called "Manson Family", and the excesses of those times, Didion made a series of essays, chronicles and reports, approaching the facts as a mental and spiritual illness, beyond good and evil, black and white. If not, the result of a disordered politics and a decadent society, hidden under the golden dream.

For Didion, her place of origin in Sacramento, California, represented the ideal scenario to carry her reflections as a reality to be told. Through fiction, chronicles and essays, the author expressed the duality of love and hate, for a city that would become the core of all her works. California was the territory where love and chaos came together through Didion's personal story, like two waves that collide in the sea to merge rapidly.

His chronicles, essays and articles from that period can be found in the anthology Those who dream the golden dream (2003), a compilation that recovers autobiographical texts from some of his books, such as Crawling towards Bethlehem (1968), The white album (1979), Salvador (1983) o Miami (1987).

Didion's critical eye put on the sore spot, exposing cancer without trying to remedy it with literary juggling is what brought the writer to fame: emphasizing the pain, not hiding it. As shown by her nephew and filmmaker Griffin Dunne in the documentary The Center Will Not Hold (Netflix), in which Didion explains several facts of her life and work from its beginnings until the death of her husband and daughter in 2003, which she also narrates in her book The year of magical thinking (2005).

In the same documentary Didion says: "while I write I want them to know who I am and where I am and what goes on in my head", statements that she managed to capture in her literature through the intimacy of her stories and the clarity to put on the table sordid, painful and often dark themes that permeated both the fiction of her novels and the truth of her many essays.

As a writer radically separated from the ideas of others, Didion is a reference for contemporary literature today, since in her ideas permeates the possibility of unveiling the history of injustices, to know about the importance of self-love and, at the same time, to empathize with an author whose work is nothing more than a reflection of a life full of circumstances that went through her own artistic creation.

As a journalist, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, mother and wife, Didion was a woman who sought through her texts a way to "tell herself", to place herself in front of the facts and to find a certain personal growth in her own reflections. It is not surprising that the snake that always accompanies her in covers and illustrations is the metaphor of her questions about life, of her constant and infinite search for answers; the beginning and the end that induce her to decipher in her mind her dreams and nightmares. Because as the author argues: ?killing a snake is like having a.?

Joan Didion, more than being a writer about the pain and elegy of life, was an author who thought about her universal chaos and then transferred her visions to the order of ideas, of words. She was a journalist who managed to portray the reality of an era without losing her critical judgment and human qualities. She was a columnist who brought to the table important issues such as self-esteem, character and femininity as synonyms of strength and intelligence. And, above all, Joan Didion was a writer who bet on removing the rhetoric from the narrative to confront the nonsense that surrounds existence.

1References to the essay entitled "When you are discarded by the university you preferred" from the book of essays entitled "When you are discarded by the university you preferred". What I want to say (2021), by the author.

2You can read the essay on self-esteem by clicking here. click here.

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