Skip to main content

From the Archive: Joan Didion

Daniel Hautzinger
Joan Didion on WTTW's 'Callaway Interviews' in 1977
Joan Didion on WTTW's 'Callaway Interviews' in 1977

Joan Didion, an admired writer and dissecter of America, died last week at the age of 87. Revered especially for her literary journalism on topics from California's counterculture to writing itself compiled in collections like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album,​ she also wrote novels such as Play It As It Lays and memoirs, including the acclaimed The Year of Magical Thinking, a reflection on her grief after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. She inspired countless journalists with her version of "New Journalism," a style of personal, literary nonfiction pioneered by Didion, Tom Wolfe, and others in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Didion published the novel A Book of Common Prayer. WTTW's John Callaway spoke with her that year on Callaway Interviews. "I don't think I will ever get a Pulitzer Prize," she told him. Almost 30 years later, she was proven wrong, when The Year of Magical Thinking won both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. It's evident that Callaway is a great fan of Didion's: as a 1977 Chicago Tribune Magazine profile of Callaway described his interview with Didion, "you got a rare glimpse into a private side of John Callaway, the awestruck, awkward bumbler in us all who says the wrong thing and can't stop." Callaway may act a bit like a fan-boy, but Didion still offers some intriguing thoughts. (Callaway could hold his own with authors: Toni Morrison, whom Callaway interviewed the same year, praised him in the same profile.) Watch excerpts below.