BORN: December 5, 1934, Sacramento, California
IDENTIFICATION: Modern California novelist, essayist, and screenwriter noted for her bleak but riveting portrayals of American life, both public and private.
Joan Didion grew up in Northern California, and her writing is rooted in that region even when she is discussing her years in New York City. A descendent of pioneers who helped settle the West, she is particularly attuned to the quest for American identity and belonging. She is often disturbed, however, by the rootlessness she discovers in so many American locales and institutions, where appearance often overrides substance. America provides the promise of progress yet also projects the potential of doom and apocalypse— a contradiction that Didion captures in the title of her first and perhaps still most noteworthy essay collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968).