Chic Writer: Joan Didion

Joan Didion, car, stingray corvette, 1970s, chic, writer, julian washerJoan Didion, portrait, cigarette, chic, writer

Joan Didion, balustrade, chic, writer Joan Didion, 1970s, scarf, chic, fashion, writer Joan Didion, typewriter, chic, writer

When I first had the idea of starting the Chic Writer series, one of the images at the forefront of my mind were those iconic black and white photos of Joan Didion photographed with a Corvette Stingray in the 1970s by Julian Wasser. There is Joan, her slender, waif-like frame clad in a long formfitting dress. In one shoot, she’s leaning out the window; in another, she has one arm wrapped around her waist, the other holding a cigarette; in a third, she’s exhaling a puff of cigarette smoke toward the viewer. She does not smile in any of the photos – in fact she’s rarely seen smiling in any of her younger photographs. There is no pandering to the viewer, no seductive gaze, no smile or duckface lips pursed while glancing over her shoulder, like in the selfies of today. As Wasser recalled of the shoot, “She was a very easy person to talk to. It was like a dream. Quite nice and relaxed. No Hollywood phoniness.”

Joan Didion is as unfailingly honest in her writing as she is in her photographs, and perhaps that’s why her essays and books are still as relevant today as it was back in the ’70s. She’s still heavily quoted on a range of subjects, from grief to self respect to writing and life in general. And in fact, there’s recently been a resurgence of interest in Didion, led by the extremely successful Kickstarter documentary her nephew is shooting about her which raised a stunning $80k within a single day. (You can still visit and donate here, this time for archival research for the documentary).

And in the month of NaNoWriMo, struggling writers will do well to take heart from the words of Joan on writing, as teased out just for you by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. In the meantime, I leave you with three choice quotes by Ms Didion:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”

Images: 1/2/3/4/5


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