Joan Didion: Intimacy and the Intellectual Writer

Memories of studying Joan Didion…. #LiteraryIntimacy and so forth. Quite long but may hit for some folks in the #writingcommunity. Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Gaucher

Joan Didion died 3 days ago; I’m posting this paper out of my deep respect for her writing life, and so I can share ideas with my friend Doug Imbrogno. Anyone else who wants to share in celebrating Didion’s life and work is welcome to join us. — EDG

Advisor: Carter Sickels 
Fall 2014 
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Fine Arts 
in Creative Writing Program West Virginia Wesleyan College

“Reading Joan Didion on any subject is like tiptoeing across a just-frozen pond filled with beautiful sharks. You look down and pray the ice will hold. Meeting her is not a vastly different experience.”

— Boris Kachka

The term “intimacy” triggers a cascading range of images: closeness, nakedness, engagement, connection, romance, mutuality, participation, shared revelation. Though not always an overt expectation, some degree of authorial intimacy is what readers of personal essays and creative nonfiction…

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2 thoughts on “Joan Didion: Intimacy and the Intellectual Writer

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful deep dive into what makes Joan Didion such a compelling writer, Elizabeth. I found myself copying out multiple paragraphs of your analysis, for future contemplation and inspiration. This paper will be of help, motivation, and encouragement to anyone serious about creative non-fiction and essay writing — and the challenge this sort of writing constantly confronts us with as we attempt to get it onto the page. That is to say, getting to the real, intimate heart of the matter while inviting the reader to be part and parcel of that revelation — as opposed to showing how well we can finesse description and pull off impressive set pieces, narrations and ventriloquism about our experiences. As I am just past the first 100 pages of a “sorta memoir” — whose ambitions and focus I constantly interrogate — this paper offers incentive and insight to get it right. Thanks, as well, for renewing my acquaintance with Joan Didion’s work. Her writing was fundamental to me as a wannabe essayist, mooning out the living room window at the mysterious wide world out there as a teenager, trying to navigate his too-cerebral brain and constantly conflicted heart.

    • That means the world to me, DJI. Thank you for helping me find a useful and relevant way to share that assignment, great to hear it resonates with you — I had a feeling it would. I’ve always seen this in you, I recognize it because I realized how badly I suffered from it when I went back to school. Didion was a journalist, of course, and she knew how to turn that process into her literary work. She was so freaking self-aware, but what I love about her is how she was always working on herself, how she knew a skill set in one manner of writing didn’t seamlessly translate into another form. How she is always putting forward the dark side of “good writing,” the truth that “writers are always selling somebody out,” and how to be worth anything you have to do that to yourself, too.

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