Joan Didion, Author of an Acclaimed Book About Miami, Dies at 87
The legendary chronicler of American society published Miami in 1987
Joan Didion died today.
In 1987, she published a nonfiction work called Miami. It was a penetrating work, as full as intrigue as her novel Democracy, which had appeared three years earlier. With her attraction to tropical climes, Didion excavated what she felt was an underreported subject: the role of Cuban emigrees in the political and business life of the city. It’s difficult to conceive of a time when this topic had been underserved, but that was Didion, with her eye on what others missed.
No one was more central or essential to my life as a writer and editor. When I was in college, I picked up one of her books from the shelf in a bookstore and never looked back. She did it all—novels, memoirs, social critique, screenwriting, travel writing, political writing. I wrote my PhD dissertation on her. I went to hear her speak and she signed the draft. I reviewed Where I Was From for Time Out New York. I reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking for the Boston Globe and the Star-Ledger. I modeled my op-ed, “Slouching Toward Laguna,” for the LA Times on her essay, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” For Poets & Writers, I penned “The Art of Reading Joan Didion: Who We Are, Who We Used to Be,” which was noted in The Best American Essays (2007). And I referenced Didion in the pages of SFBW and probably every magazine I’ve had the good fortune to edit, because no one understood American society better or wrote about it more deftly or with more shimmering precision. But even my creative nonfiction that wasn’t explicitly about Didion and her work was deeply influenced by her sensibility, her craft, her penetrating, prescient prose, and the writer’s role in society as exemplified by her.
Miami is one of Didion’s lesser-known works, but essential reading for anyone who wants to understand more about the particular history of the thriving, evolving metropolis that has become the most consequential Latin American city, among its distinctions in so many other areas.