Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
   + [ The Arts ]
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like Joan Didion's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Nora Ephron,
Louise Glück,
Nadine Gordimer,
Khaled Hosseini,
John Irving,
Norman Mailer,
Joyce Carol Oates,
Carol Shields,
Amy Tan,
John Updike,
Gore Vidal
and Tom Wolfe

Related Links:
On Fiction
THe New Yorker
On Nonfiction

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Joan Didion
Joan Didion
Profile of Joan Didion Biography of Joan Didion Interview with Joan Didion Joan Didion Photo Gallery

Joan Didion Interview (page: 2 / 6)

National Book Award

Print Joan Didion Interview Print Interview

  Joan Didion

You were living at one point with a fundamentalist preacher and his family who ate a lot of peach ice cream.

Joan Didion: Sit on the porch and eat peach ice cream every night, yeah.

Each from their own quart carton.

Joan Didion: Yes. They were big too. The daughters had a full set of Gone With the Wind paper dolls. I remember that. Not much else.

What effect do you think all that moving around and displacement had on your personality and on your sense of the importance of place?

Joan Didion Interview Photo
Joan Didion: think it had an enormous influence. It made me feel perpetually like an outsider. It very rapidly punctured the idea that I was smarter than other people. I had been put ahead in California schools and then, because then I hadn't gone to school for a couple of years, I was immediately put back. So I was kind of the dumb new girl in the class, and that had a certain effect. As far as my sense of place, I idealized Sacramento during those years. I was just yearning to get home.

How old were you when you stopped moving around?

Joan Didion: I was nine or ten when we stopped moving around. I think we came back to Sacramento in 1943 or early '44. My father went to Detroit, and we didn't go to Detroit with him. He went to Detroit to settle out defense contracts. They were trying to settle out the World War I contracts, so they could begin to settle out the World War II contracts. He was working on that, and then he came back when the war ended. But I think mother just couldn't face looking for another room in Detroit.

So for at least a while there, she was a single mom?

Joan Didion: Yes. We lived with her mother.

Moving around as you did must have made it very difficult socially in school.

Joan Didion: It did, and I was sort of a shy child to begin with. It didn't improve that situation.

Were you able to connect with any teachers? Were there any teachers that recognized your gifts?

Joan Didion: No, not at that time. Not during that grammar school period. When I got back to Sacramento and sort of caught up, there were teachers who were very helpful. I remember a high school English teacher, and I remember another high school English teacher who wasn't mine, but I knew her because she was an actress, and I was doing little theater. Sacramento had a repertory theater, and I was playing children because I was small. I was old enough to go downtown by myself. I could go to the rehearsals at night and still look like a tiny child. So that was a perfect set-up. She always had the lead in these plays that I would play the child in, and so I became very fond of her.

How did you land a job at Vogue?

Joan Didion: Vogue used to have a contest for college seniors called the Prix de Paris, and my mother had pointed it out to me when we were living in Colorado Springs during the war, and we were snowbound, and we were looking through Vogue. We had all these little entertainments, and she pointed it out to me as something I could win when I got old enough. So lo and behold, I entered it, and I did win it. So the prize at that time was a job.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

A full-time job? Doing what?

Joan Didion: Well, for the first year, I think all I did was read old Vogues. I read through World War II in Vogue. It was kind of interesting and heartbreaking, because there was a piece in 1941, not long before December 7th, by a commentator of note named John Vandercook. It was about Pearl Harbor, and he kept talking about it as our one fortress in the vast Pacific. I sat there reading it with tears running down my face. And then I started writing merchandising copy and then promotional copy and then finally editorial copy. I was in the feature department.

Did you see yourself with a career in magazine writing at that point?

Joan Didion: I was doing pieces for other magazines too, and I knew I could do pieces for magazines, but I was trying to write a novel at night. I did not see a career for myself on the staff of a magazine, because I had no interest in the politics involved. I had no interest in dressing right and doing all of the things that you had to do if you were on a career track.

Did Vogue have a dress code?

Joan Didion: Dress code? You had to wear a hat in the office at that time. In fact, the nurse assured me that the reason I had a cold was because I wasn't wearing my hat in the office. She said you lose 90 percent of your body heat in your head. There was a great metaphor in what she was saying. Of course, the reason I was sick and not happy is because I wasn't wearing my hat in the office, I wasn't playing the game.

When you were working at Vogue in the '60s, did you already see yourself as an independent essayist?

Joan Didion: I was writing pieces that I just sent out. I really didn't have any control over them.

I did see myself as a novelist, even though I was having trouble finishing this first novel. After it was published, it was only read by about ten people, but they happened to be ten people who gave it to ten other people and eventually -- you know, not only was it not a commercial success, it wasn't by any means, I don't think, a success on its own terms. I didn't know how to do it, and it ended up, because I didn't know how to do it -- I wanted to have a shattered narrative, but I didn't have a clue how to do that, and so it was confusing. So the publisher pressed me to straighten out the chronology, so it became just a simple novel with a flashback, which wasn't my intention at all. But anyway, enough people read it so that I was offered a contract for a second novel.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Joan Didion Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   

This page last revised on Aug 06, 2016 20:06 EDT
How To Cite This Page