The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Why City College should remember Joan Didion

Portrait of Joan Didion taken in 1970, courtesy of Kathleen Ballard of the Los Angeles Times.

“The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home, and in your writing you are invoking that home, so you are assuaging the homesickness.” 

~ Joan Didion, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” 2005

The name Joan Didion is one that reverberates throughout the City College campus. Though some may not know her, her presence in Sacramento lingers. More recently, on Oct. 18, the Los Rios Community College Board of Trustees renamed the City College library to the Joan Didion Learning Resource Center, nearly two years after the author’s death in December 2021.

Born and raised primarily in Sacramento, Didion was a writer of 25 published works and a journalist for numerous publications. 

Didion was an alumna of C.K. McClatchy High School, and took classes at City College before graduating from UC Berkeley. Before becoming the famed writer she is today, she wrote for the C.K. McClatchy High School paper. As a teenager, Didion also wrote for the Sacramento Union Newspaper.

She was a pioneer of the New Journalism movement, a narrative take on traditional journalism that was popularized in the 60’s and 70’s. The movement, unlike traditional journalism, allowed journalists like Didion to immerse themselves in the process of reporting stories. This genre of journalism reads like a novel, full of dialogue, descriptive scenery, typically told in first person. 

Spanning a remarkable career that stretched over six and a half decades, Didion wrote of hippie culture, the tumult of politics, the abyss of grief and both her home states: the concrete jungle of New York and the sun-soaked embrace of California.

Despite growing up in Sacramento, Didion’s writings leave a complicated picture of her relationship with the city.

“Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento,” said Didion in a New York Times profile. The statement also adorns the opening of Greta Gerwig’s cinematic ode to the city, “Lady Bird.”

But to say that Didion hated Sacramento is a statement ignorant of her work. 

“I remember swimming (albeit nervously, for I was a nervous child, afraid of sinkholes and afraid of snakes, and perhaps that was the beginning of my error) the same rivers we had swum for a century: the Sacramento, so rich with silt that we could barely see our hands a few inches beneath the surface,” Didion wrote of Sacramento in her 1968 collection of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” Her writings about Sacramento are often a mixture of nostalgia and picturesque storytelling.

In fact, her first published novel, “Run, River” takes place in Sacramento. In several of her novels, Didion wrote of her relationship with Sacramento, including “The White Album” and even in her final novel before her passing, “Blue Nights.”

In the tapestry of words that Didion wove throughout her career, there is a complex relationship with our beloved Sacramento. It is a relationship marked by moments of nostalgia and the enduring embrace of a place she called home. 

Didion remains a distinct voice in writing and reporting for touching authenticity and observational skill. Didion’s work serves as a reminder of the ways in which can be used to evoke a sense of home, no matter where home may be. 

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