THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD without us all working together
Joan Didion is an American writer who launched her career in the 1960s after winning an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956 and then worked for Vogue magazine from 1956 to 1963, first as a copywriter and later as an editor. During this period she wrote her first novel, Run River (1963), which examines the disintegration of a California family. While in New York City, she met and married writer John Gregory Dunne, with whom she returned to California in 1964.
A collection of magazine columns published as Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) established Didion’s reputation as an essayist and confirmed her preoccupation with the forces of disorder. In a second collection, The White Album (1979), Didion continued her analysis of the turbulent 1960s. The inner decay of the Establishment is a major theme of the essays constituting the volume After Henry (1992; also published as Sentimental Journeys). Didion’s writing during the 1960s through the late 1970s engaged audiences in the realities of the counterculture of the 1960s and the Hollywood lifestyle.
Her political writing often concentrated on the subtext of political and social rhetoric. In 1991, she wrote the earliest mainstream media article to suggest the Central Park Five had been wrongfully convicted. In 2005, she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography for The Year of Magical Thinking. She later adapted the book into a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007. In 2017, Didion was profiled in the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne.
Since women journalists are coming up from many fronts, I am continuing to feature them. Joan Didion and her Year of Magical Thinking; even the titles of her works draw you in. From “A Year of Magical Thinking” to “A Book of Common Prayer,” her words fill your mind with new possibilities. A perfect collection of works for any thriving book club. Joan would want a group of men and women sitting around discussing the meat and gravy of her pieces, to give it life, to give it wings.
Netflix released a documentary on her called The Center Will Not Hold, a line she borrowed from W.B. Yeat’s poem, The Second Coming, in her essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem; “things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – that leans on a metaphor of something like gravity or centrifugal force. Didion’s nephew-in-law Griffin Dunne, actor and filmmaker, got this film made, in part, with a Kickstarter campaign.
This is what brings me to telling her story of a writer convinced that the center is disintegrating more every day, and that our own lives are even more futile at attempts to grasp for it. It is why our seekers of truth, journalist of integrity, are needed more than ever. How profound to find these words now, when we watch the disintegration happening before us. We also watch as normal citizens gather to clean up the destruction, to wipe away graffiti, not by grasping, but by appropriate actions, actions that give us hope that the world has not gone entirtely mad. I recommend the film and her books. Brilliant mind that saw the world from different heights. Her perspectives give new insights. Time to read more of her works, starting with this one.