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Joan Didion death: American writer who chronicled social unrest dies aged 87

‘Play It As It Lays’ author died of Parkinson’s disease, her publisher has confirmed

Annabel Nugent
Thursday 23 December 2021 20:26
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<p>Voice of the future: Didion in 1977</p>

Voice of the future: Didion in 1977

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Acclaimed writer Joan Didion has died of Parkinson’s disease aged 87.

The Sacramento-born author died on Thursday (23 December) at her home in Manhattan, an executive at Knopf, Didion’s publisher, confirmed to The New York Times.

In a statement issued to The Independent, Didion’s agency called her “one of the country’s most trenchant writers and astute observers”.

“Her best-selling works of fiction, commentary, and memoir have received numerous honours and are considered modern classics,” read the statement.

Didion was an American novelist, memoirist and essayist who launched her career after winning an essay contest that was sponsored by Vogue magazine in the Sixties.

At the time she had been studying for a BA in English at the University of California, Berkley.

She went on to become a distinctive voice in American fiction and non-fiction. Her writing across the Sixties and Seventies explored a range of subjects, including politics and her home state of California.

Didion wrote 19 books. The writer’s best-known works include the first of her seven non-fiction books, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), Play It As It Lays (1970), and The White Album, a collection of essays published in 1979.

The author in 2005

In 1963, she wrote and published her first novel, Run, River.

She became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography for 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The book was written after the unexpected death of Didion’s husband and frequent collaborator John Gregory Dunne, who died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 71.

It was later adapted into a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007.

Didion was a distinctive voice in American fiction and non-fiction

Two years after Dunne’s death, the couple’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, died aged 39 of pancreatitis and septic shock. Didion wrote about her daughter’s life and death in her 2011 memoir Blue Nights.

Barack Obama called Didion “one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture” when he presented her with the National Humanities Medal in 2012.

Recently, Didion was the subject of a Netflix documentary titled The Center Will Not Hold, which was directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne.

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