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Joan Didion’s Image Takes Us Back to an Era When Writing was Still Glamourous

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There are few writers as visually distinctive as Joan Didion. We have glimpses of her as a young reporter with her delicately poised silk scarf and anorak. A decade later we see her on the porch of her Malibu home, casting an ironic glance at her partner and daughter in the foreground, the Pacific Ocean fading out cinematically behind them.

These images are part of the selling power of the grand narrative fiction of Joan Didion – an image that evokes an era when a life in writing might naturally distil glamour. Whole generations of writers continue to make themselves in the fantasy of her image, though the affordances of a life in writing are no longer what they were.

The acquisition of Didion’s brand has now been made more possible with the auction of her possessions at the Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York. Here we find the black-and-white photograph of Didion with her Corvette in Malibu and her peacock chair, popularised by 1960s counterculture, and the Bay Area retailer Cost Plus. The peacock chair would become a political symbol of black liberation but for Didion, it was simply the style of 1960s California, the dream of revolution refashioned as elite homeware design.

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