Didion Receives Honorary Doctorate from Harvard


Didion in Harvard Yard on June 4th, 2009.

Didion in Harvard Yard on June 4th, 2009.

Joan Didion received an honorary Doctorate of Letters today from Harvard University. The Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, the Noble prize-winning scientist Steven Woo, religious historian Wendy Doniger, legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, immunologist Anthony S. Fauci, anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, engineer Robert Langer, musician Wynton Marsalis, and political scientist Sidney Verba were also awarded with doctorates in their respective disciplines. 

One attendee wrote on her twitter: “Immensely frail, in gold Pumas & tortoiseshell shades, Joan Didion got her honorary Harvard degree. Elaine Scarry helped her up the stairs.”

This is the excerpt on Didion from the Harvard Gazette:


Author, playwright, essayist, and journalist Joan Didion was fascinated with words from an early age. As a child, books were a solace for this Army officer’s shy daughter who found it difficult to adjust to the constant moves required for her father’s job.

Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in English in 1956. Her senior year she won an essay competition sponsored by Vogue and a job at the magazine’s Manhattan office. At the fashion publication for eight years, Didion worked her way up from research assistant to associate features editor.

Her literary career is marked in part by her unique journalistic style, a personalized approach, often labeled “New Journalism” and frequently associated with authors Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, among others. The technique, employed by Didion with great success in essays like her first collection “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” published in 1968 and chronicling the counterculture of the 1960s, often uses tools from literary fiction to craft engaging works of nonfiction. Her essay topics often include politics, the media, and pop culture.

Didion’s works of fiction include “Run River,” “A Book of Common Prayer,” and “The Last Thing He Wanted.” She has also written several works of nonfiction including “Miami” and “Where I Was From.” She is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Most recently, Didion’s career has been linked to the sudden death of her husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, who died of a heart attack in 2003. Didion, married to Dunne since 1964 and with whom she was a frequent collaborator, wrote a moving account of her struggle to cope with her grief after his death in her best-selling “A Year of Magical Thinking.” Tragically, less than two years later, in 2005, Didion lost her only child, her adopted daughter Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, to illness.

She is a member of the Academy of Arts & Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and The Berkeley Fellows. She has received the 2002 George Polk Book Award, the 2005 American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Criticism & Belles Lettres, the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and the 2007 National Book Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.



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