Joan Didion: interview outtakes
Where The Year of Magical Thinking deals with the death of Joan Didion's husband, her new memoir, Blue Nights, addresses the loss of the other member of Didion's immediate family: her daughter, Quintana. Or, doesn't quite address, really; more like, circles around it, as the author comes to reflect on her own mortality. The following excerpt from our recent phone conversation doesn't appear in the published interview:
In Magical Thinking, you comment on the societal expectations around grieving, that people expected you to mourn and then move past it. Are interviews like this, being asked about John and Quintana, a socially accepted way to continue to speak about your loss?
It certainly was on Magical Thinking, and Magical Thinking went even further because I did the play, which involved going to the Booth Theatre on West 45th Street at least once a week and watching this play performed by Vanessa Redgrave. And that became an extraordinary experience because it was kind of sitting there, watching it acted out. Well, it wasn’t kind of. It was. [Laughs]
You have an interesting connection with Vanessa Redgrave. Not only did she play you but, as you write in Blue Nights, she also lost her daughter, Natasha Richardson.
Yeah, that was a horrible thing. She had done Magical Thinking for a year on Broadway, and then she did it for a year at the National Theatre in London, and almost immediately afterwards she found herself in exactly that [situation]. I did not know how she could stand up there again and say, “This’ll happen to you,” but she managed to do it.
So she performed it after Natasha’s death?
Before Natasha died, she had promised to do a benefit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the children of Palestine and Israel. It was due to happen immediately after Natasha died, and after Natasha died, obviously she delayed it for a few months, but she was determined to carry through on it, and so she did it at St. John the Divine. The National Theatre had previously asked her to do another tour with it in Europe, and she wisely declined to do that because she did not want to deal with that story indefinitely, so instead she did Driving Miss Daisy [Laughs], which is great.
After the deaths of John and Quintana, you chose the title of your 2006 collection of nonfiction works, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, which is also the first sentence of your 1979 book, The White Album.
It has proved to be very true for me. I have told myself stories, literally, in order to live. I didn’t realize at the time that I wrote that sentence in The White Album that it was gonna prove so prescient, but it did.
Do you know what your next writing project will be?
No, no, I don’t. [Laughs] I’m trying to get through the publication of this one, and then get through Christmas. Then we’ll see.
Your Christmas plans?
I’m gonna stay in New York. I like the winter in New York, and the summer. What I don’t like is the fall.
Why is that?
I don’t know, it’s supposed to be everybody’s favorite season in New York, but I find it in some ways dispiriting. I mean, the darkening of the days.
Blue Nights is available now. Read our published interview here.