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The Places that Joan Didion Lived

Central to much of Joan Didion’s writing is the idea of ‘place’: places she visited and places she lived, as well as the metaphysical idea of one’s place in the world. Many of her books explore the idea of what a place is and how we function within it. In A Book of Common Prayer (1977) Didion wrote “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” Two years later, in The White Album (1979), she writes that “a place belongs to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.”   California is the subject of her 2003 collection of essays titled Where I Was From, a memoir which examines what Didion calls the ‘California conundrum’ of the place she was born and where she lived much of her life. Other books, including Miami, South and West and Salvador, are titled after the place the author examines.

New York City is a place that also claimed a central role in Didion’s life and writing. She moved to New York in 1956 to begin her career and would move back again in 1988. It is New York City, and her Upper East Side apartment, that figure prominently in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Year of Magical Thinking (2005), followed by Blue Nights (2011). Through both books Didion wrestles with the tragic losses of her husband and daughter. In Blue Nights, Didion writes about the “stuff” that fills places and remains behind after a loved one departs: “I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted.” And “The detritus…now fills my apartment in New York. There is no drawer I can open without seeing something I do not want, on reflection, to see…In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact, they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was there.”

Joan Didion’s NYC apartment was the last place she lived, a place she filled with things that were important to her and that she wanted to have around her. Comfortable and unassuming, Didion’s home was where she wrote, entertained and spent time alone or in the company of those she chose to be with.  An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion  offers a glimpse into the place where Didion spent the last years of her life, and offers the opportunity to own some of the objects, books, furniture and art that now remain in her absence.

Time & Location

An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion on November 16 at 11am

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