Didion brought style to journalism

Sacramento native was inducted into the California Hall of Fame on October 1; an SN&R writer thinks she really deserved it.

For more information on the California Hall of Fame inductees, visit www.californiamuseum.org/inductees.

Journalist and author Joan Didion was inducted into the California Hall of Fame on Wednesday, October 1.

To me, Didion is one of the most deserving hall of famers this year, along with climate scientist Stephen Schneider and activists Charlotta Bass, Fred Ross Sr. and Mimi Silbert. Specifically, because I have a degree in “literary journalism,” it’s hard to overlook the importance of Didion’s writing in the context of what was called “the New Journalism”—which today refers to journalism that borrows storytelling techniques from literature.

Nowadays, it’s also often found within the pages of SN&R.

Back in the day, though, Didion, a Sacramento native, emerged as one of the genre’s leading wordsmiths with her two nonfiction collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979). Today, the 79-year-old writer is also an accomplished essayist, critic and fiction author.

As I write this, her 2003 essay collection, Where I Was From, remains freshly engrained in my brain. I finished it last night. It’s the final book in We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, a 1,000-page volume that encompasses the entirety of her first seven nonfiction collections.

It’d be impossible to distill all 1,000 pages of Didion into just a few words, but perhaps the following three suffice: insightful, acerbic, honest.

In Where I Was From, which SN&R interviewed Didion about in 2003 (see “Where she was from” by Kel Munger, SN&R Feature Story, October 16, 2003), Didion writes about California. She does so through revisiting her past writings, reexamining how people think of California history, and juxtaposing its perceived history with personal experiences: “Home, there, where I was from, me, California … I realized that ’me’ is what we think when our parents die, even at my age, who will look out for me now, who will remember me as I was, who will know what happens to me now, where will I be from.”