Joan Didion, who died today in New York at the age of 87, was a writer all her life. Her work, whether fiction or journalism, was clear-sighted, precise and perceptive, and always peppered with her signature bone-dry wit. “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write,” she explained in her 1976 essay “Why I Write”. “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Born on 5 December 1934 in Sacramento, California, Didion was just five years old when she wrote her first story, at her mother’s encouragement. As a teenager she obsessively typed out the works of Ernest Hemingway, learning the rhythm and simplicity of clear, declarative writing. At 21, while studying for a degree in English at Berkeley, she wrote an essay about the San Francisco architect William Wilson Wurster and entered it into a competition sponsored by Vogue. She won first place, and her prize was a job as a research assistant at the magazine and the start of a new life in New York.