This loving portrait of one of America’s most revered writers is a treasure trove of Didion’s wisdom about literature, life, and the power of endurance—and surrender.

  1. Chapter 1: Rising Star

    I MET JOAN DIDION in 1971 because of her book, Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Reading it was one of the great moments in my life of reading literature. I found her essays hypnotic, in a voice I’d never heard, and she expressed with bell-like clarity ideas I knew were true but couldn’t have articulated myself. I was twenty-seven, a reporter in New York, and I thought: If I could meet this woman and ask the right questions, I would learn all I yearned to know.

    A mutual friend gave me her phone number, saying she’d probably read one of my articles and I should call her when I was in Los Angeles. When I did, her husband, John Dunne, picked up the phone. I would learn later that Joan never answered the phone unless John was out of the house.

    “May I speak to Joan Didion?” I asked.

    “Who’s calling?” John said.

    I told him my name and said I wanted to tell her how much I loved her work. Then, realizing he was also a writer, I stammered, “I really … I mean … I like your writing also.…”

    “Just a minute,” he said.

    Joan picked up the phone and said, “Would you like to come to dinner?”

    Several nights later, my husband and I borrowed my father’s Cadillac and drove to the Dunnes’ home, perched on a sandy beach in Trancas, a community north of Malibu. It was an hour’s drive, forty miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, which is dark and treacherous at night because of the speed at which cars zoom in both directions. We had a hard time spotting the driveway, but when we pulled in, John was wait...

Great reading. Anywhere, any time

Subscribe to Byliner to finish this and thousands of other riveting stories for just $5.99 a month. Get started now with a 14 day FREE trial.

Join Today

Already a member? Sign in