Author Joan Didion comes to Cleveland for Writers Center Stage series

From Cleveland.com

In her 1968 book of essays called “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” Joan Didion wrote: “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does.”

As one creator of “New Journalism,” a style of reporting that allows the writer to be seen in the work, Didion had it all: a deadpan wit, a cool detachment, a piercing observational intelligence and chiseled, perceptive sentences.

“She is really a distinctive American voice,” said Charles Michener, an acquaintance and former Newsweek arts editor. “There is nobody quite like her.”

Michener will interview Didion Tuesday evening on stage as the finale to this season’s Writers Center Stage series. The program, run by the Cuyahoga County Library Foundation, brought in Didion when it became clear John Updike was too ill to fulfill his commitment.

Didion, 74, brings her own brand of courage to Cleveland, in that her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly in 2003, followed by their only child, Quintana Roo, eight months later. “The Year of Magical Thinking,” a book about grief and loss, won Didion the National Book Award in 2005.

 

Although not her best writing, the rawness of that memoir resonated with readers. It became a best seller, with 511 customer reviews posted onAmazon.com.

“That’s a book that shouldn’t work — written in the moment, breaking all the rules — and it does,” said Dinty W. Moore, who teaches Didion’s craft as director of creative writing at Ohio University. “She’s had a long career and done amazing work at both ends, from ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ and ‘The White Album’ to ‘The Year.’ ”

Michener said he was rereading Didion’s fiction — “Play It As It Lays” and “A Book of Common Prayer” — and was struck by how differently it reads from her nonfiction, reminding him in its dread and menace of Don DeLillo’s books.

“She is a very compelling writer; she has her own music, the rhythms, repetitions,” Michener said. “Hers is a very despairing vision. I’ve known Joan for a long time. She’s a mysterious person. It will be interesting to see how voluble she is in public. In private, she is so quiet as to be almost inaudible.” 

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