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Things We Saw Today: Literary Icon Joan Didion Dies at 87

a close up of Joan Didion in her 70s

Legendary novelist and essayist Joan Didion died Thursday at age 87. According to a statement from her publisher, the cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease. In a month that also saw the deaths of bell hooks and Eve Babitz, Didion’s death is another massive blow to the world of incisive, insightful writing.

Didion was a major force in American literature for the last half-century. She wrote about California countercultures of the 1960s and 70s; she wrote about politics, and about grief. She was also impossibly cool. I honestly don’t know many writers who weren’t hugely impacted by her work.

From BuzzFeed’s remembrance:

Didion married her own search for spirituality and purpose with her country’s, making a complex, overwhelming cultural shift personal. Her writings changed and defined American journalism and history.

And from The Atlantic:

With an anthropologist’s eye and an artist’s imagination, Didion documented disillusionments and disenchantments—dreams both quick and dead. She named her own regrets and mourned the paths she’d left untaken. She examined her grief. She examined others’ grief too. She wrote about California, the place of her birth and later her chosen home, as dusty and often delirious, her writing conjuring a place where most everything, dreams and cars and homes and people, might be made disposable. Something better will surely be in store, her characters tell themselves, because that is the line they’ve been told. They throw away what they have to make space for what they won’t.

When Barack Obama awarded Didion the National Medal of Arts in 2013, he rightly called her “one of most celebrated American writers of her generation.”

“For her mastery of style in writing.  Exploring the culture around us and exposing the depths of sorrow, Ms. Didion has produced works of startling honesty and fierce intellect, rendered personal stories universal, and illuminated the seemingly peripheral details that are central to our lives,” he said.

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Happy holidays, everybody! Stay safe and here’s a delightful dinosaur capybara for you:

(image: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.