Discipline: Literature – fiction, Literature – nonfiction

Joan Didion

Discipline: Literature – fiction, Literature – nonfiction
Region: Los Angeles, CA

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1996

Joan Didion (1934 – 2021), the 1996 recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal, was an American journalist and writer of novels, screenplays, and autobiographical works. Didion was best known for her literary journalism and memoirs. In her novels and essays, Didion explored the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos; the overriding theme of her work was individual and social fragmentation.

In 1956, Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. During her senior year, she won first place in the "Prix de Paris" essay contest sponsored by Vogue, and was awarded a job as a research assistant at the magazine, having written a story on the San Francisco architect William Wilson Wurster. During her seven years at Vogue, Didion worked her way up from promotional copywriter to associate feature editor. While there, and homesick for California, she wrote her first novel, Run, River, which was published in 1963. Writer and friend John Gregory Dunne helped her edit the book, and the two moved into an apartment together. A year later they married, and Didion returned to California with her new husband. In 1968, she published her first work of nonfiction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of magazine pieces about her experiences in California.

You can read her 1996 Edward MacDowell Medal acceptance speech here.