Tag: joan didion

Interview: Lars Jan on His Adaptation of Joan Didion’s ‘The White Album’

“I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full…”

There has never been a writer quite as poignant and iconic as Joan Didion; she is a legend in every right. Yet, despite her fame spanning decades and her immense collection of publications, she is someone whose work we rarely see adapted.


So when I heard artist and director Lars Jan was adapting the entirety of Didion’s essay “The White Album” for the stage, I couldn’t help but be excited. And I wasn’t let down. Jan’s is a truly breathtaking show that uniquely blends the way in which “The White Album” is a time capsule of 70s California, with the political discourse of the modern age. It was an incredible ode to Didion and one of her most beautiful works.


Image Via  Stephanie Berger.


Jan’s piece feels so relevant today and I can’t stress enough how incredibly poignant the experience was. The use of projections, music, movement and song created an deeply powerful experience. The show will take the stage again April 5th – 7th at CAP UCLA presented by the Center Theatre Group and if you have the chance you must check it out; this isn’t something you want to miss!


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”


I was fortunate enough to speak with Jan about the journey that led to creating this adaptation.


Alex McKelley: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, I caught the show and just adored it; it was such a powerful experience. I’m a huge fan of Didion and seeing her work adapted to the stage was so exciting because that’s something we never really see done. Do you want to talk a little bit about the process of bringing such a prolific writer’s work to the stage?


Lars Jan: Yeah, I was concerned about that, I mean, I’m a Didion fan too but people hold her work so close and her work also never gets adapted in any way. I was sure there would be people who would definitely see through a lense of what they wanted and didn’t want to happen. But, the response has been really overwhelmingly engaged and positive and great. And we hit on every word. The essay is thirty-eight pages and we really made sure to include all of it.


AM: And that came across so well.  It really is a powerful essay. What was it that made you decide that this would be the one to bring to life?


LJ: Well, I read it in high school and there was something about Didion’s wit and kind of nihilistic streak that I think responded to an impressionable sixteen-year-old, and I was also interested in these other characters that she was covering but I didn’t really know that much about them; so she also inspired me to learn more about the period. And as I matured and became an artist myself I’ve just always been such a huge fan of her writing. Word-for-word, she just has the most beautiful sentence construction. One of the things I love about “The White Album” in particular is the really unique collage structure.


AM: I completely agree, the essay is written in such an interesting way by blending multiple stories from that time period together, and it really is such a time-capsule of that era. Would you draw a lot of similarities between the social and political climate of then and that of now?


LJ: You know, I definitely don’t think that history necessarily repeats itself, but there is that Mark Twain quote, “but it does rhyme.”  So, I do think there are a lot of rhymes right now. And I think you can really look at Black Lives Matter and connect that to the legacy of the Black Panthers; though they were different movements, the source of their struggle is inherently the same. Them, along with the student movements of the late sixties are very inspiring to me. I think we’ve had flare-ups of similar movements asking questions about the structure of society and you kind of see the genealogy there.


AM: Yeah, there really seems to be such a parallel between then and now, it’s almost eerie in a way.


LJ: Yeah, and it’s been fifty-years since that essay but anniversaries and those things, they’re just numbers. And I guess those numbers are helpful to induce you to take some stock about what has and has not changed; whether it’s a birthday or an anniversary or a historical event.


AM: Completely. I think that’s what makes seeing the piece now feel that much more important and powerful. Were there any parts of the essay that you found difficult to bring to life or that you weren’t exactly sure how to go about adapting? Anything you found challenging along the journey?


LJ: Yeah, there were lots of challenging thing but the biggest challenge was figuring out how to work with this inner audience. There are about twenty people onstage and their show actually starts before the theatre audience. And they’re able to look at the works that inspired this piece and look at the records of music from this period that are all in the room, along with Didion’s “to pack and wear” list. And, they do this sort of exercise together and watch the first portion of the essay with the rest of the audience. And they sort of, themselves, transform into this Jim Morrison dance party that then turns into a Black Panthers chant that eventually turns into the student protests until the police eject them out, and then they watch the rest of the performance. So, they really experience a different show but the two shows are woven together. So rehearsing that is impossible because you can only work with those people one time because, the experience only makes sense one time since they’re not really collaborators, they’re participating. They’re also just in a show that happens to be happening simultaneously that’s also participatory.


Image Via The New York Times


AM: What was it that inspired you to add this sort of inner-audience?


LJ: I was just thinking about 1960 and 2018 and, in some ways, 2068. I teach at California Institute of the Arts and I talk to a lot of kids in their teens and twenties about things in the sixties and the things that were coming up in “The White Album” and I just realized that there was very little fluency of specific characters and movements and the sort of historical precedent of young people getting organized in order to kind of push a very different agenda. And, I thought that fluency was important. I also realized that the characters in the essay that Didion’s writing about when she’s writing about them they’re almost all in their twenties. Everybody who she writes about in that essay is a kid, pretty much. And you just see how much radical potential energy is encapsulated in those people. It really is a willingness to fundamentally reconsider the direction that things are headed.


AM: Absolutely, that makes perfect sense. And that’s very much encapsulated in the essay and within the inner-audience, which is what makes the piece feel both so modern and historical and I really appreciated the opportunity to go see it. Thanks again for taking the time to talk!


LJ: Of course!



Image Via Experience Columbus



Featured Image Via BAM 

Joan Didion

7 Crazy Facts About the Irreplaceable Joan Didion

Joan Didion is more than just an author; she’s an icon. She is an essayist, novelist, journalist, and everything in between. Didion is one of the most famous authors of all time. After the 1968 release of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, she gained a cult following of avid fans that has yet to cease.


And I, personally, am a part of that cult. I love Joan Didion with an intensity I could never begin to fully explain. From the moment I read On Self-Respect, she owned a part of my soul. I collect her essays like they’re going out-of-style (which they never will, obviously). She’s the writer I turn to whenever I feel my own writer’s block creeping in; she never fails to shake up my thoughts and make me see things differently.


Also, she’s taught me so much, and I don’t just mean in the emotional sense! She has taught me about water, about the Women’s Movement, all about the state of California (which I will be relocating to for the next six weeks in, like, four days and Didion has helped soothe my very anxious East Coast heart more than I could ever thank her for.), New York City, and so, so much more.


Joan Didion is above all else; she exists on a plane that is entirely her own. Her writing is bold, honest, dry, descriptive-yet-casual; she can make anything relatable, interesting, and easy to understand. She is the Queen of words. And, what better way to honor her ever-growing legacy than with some lesser-known facts about the wordsmith herself?


1. Didion is an insanely killer cook.


While everyone in the 1960’s was wasted out on hallucinogens and party favors, she spent her evenings cooking elaborate meals for dinner parties of thirty-to-forty guests.


Didion cooking

Via aftertastes


2. Nancy Reagan loathes her


After interviewing her for The Saturday Evening Post in 1968, Reagan was less-than-thrilled to find the piece dripping with Didion’s famed bluntness and ever-so-slightly-sarcastic edge, calling her a “bitch” and a “hack”. (Also, how angering is it to see someone refer to Queen Didion that way? Show some respect, Nancy!)


Nancy and Ronald Reagan

Image Via LGBTQ Nation


3. She told Vogue she spoke Middle English. 

In her application to Vogue in 1965, Didion wrote “middle English” when asked what languages she speaks. (Didion’s dry humor has been winning for decades.)


Joan Didion and John Dunne

Image Via James Howden


4. Warren Beatty was Didion’s not-so-secret admirer for years.


Apparently his love and constant come-ons to his close (and married) friend were a running joke amidst their inner circle.


Didion and friends

Image Via Interview Magazine


5. Harrison Ford was hired by Didion to help renovate her home in Malibu.


This was years before his own fame would erupt, and Ford has publicly spoken about how grateful he was to always be invited to Didion’s house parties, even when he was simply working as her carpenter. 

(Can you spot Harrison Ford back in his carpenter days?)


Harrison Ford as a carpenter

Image Via Gauchazh


6. A babysitter predicted her daughter’s death


In 1966, the babysitter Didion hired to watch over her daughter Quintana told her Quintana had an “aura of death surrounding her”. Quintana passed away on August 26, 2005 at the age of thirty-nine.


Didion and Quintana

Image Via The Cut


7. She freezes her manuscripts


Didion would put her manuscripts in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer whenever she had writer’s block. (Even Joan Didion struggles with writer’s block!)


Didion and Dunne reading

Image Via Vanity Fair


How lucky are we to be alive at the same time as this literal legend? Long live Joan Didion, huzzah! 





Featured Image via Scratchbook.net

Cat on books

15 Quotes About Writing from Famous Authors

Whether you’re an aspiring writer, an avid reader, or none of the above you can’t help but admit the power and influence the written word has on us all. Writing can be cathartic, informative, distracting, devastating, connecting, and everything in-between.


I love writing and words and all the ways in which they can effect our lives so much (seriously) that I’m at a complete and total loss for them right now. 


So, I’m just going to let these fifteen quotes from famous authors do the rest of the talking.



“If I waited for perfection…I would never write a word.” —Margaret Atwood




“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” —Maya Angelou



“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” —Joan Didion



“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”—Virginia Woolf



“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.” —Enid Bagnold




“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” —Anaïs Nin



“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  —Sylvia Plath



“When I’m writing I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” —Anne Sexton



“I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.” —Maggie Nelson



“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today.” —Franz Kafka



“A person who writes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down.” —Edna St. Vincent Millay



“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” —William Faulkner



Who am I? I’m just a writer. I write things down. I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure, I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallow glass, but that comes later.” —Richard Siken



“Not all poetry wants to be storytelling. And not all storytelling wants to be poetry. But great storytellers and great poets share something in common: They had something to say, and did.” —Sarah Kay



“The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” —Augusten Burroughs





Featured Image Via Pinterest

Netflix Documentary

Joan Didion Explained: The Woman Behind the 1960s

Precise essayist, poignant novelist, mother, and notable badass, Joan Didion is one of the most celebrated authors of her generation. Her voice is so fresh that she’s become an essential American cultural figure, particularly since the release of Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The book is a personal account of the hippie movement in the San Franciscan neighbourhood of Haight Ashbury. Her cult following has since grown and intensified sinceHers is the voice of a generation, and an incredible Netflix documentary about her life was released back in October of 2017. Check out the trailer below.



Just from the trailer, you can see the author speaking candidly about her various life experiences. We are given a glimpse into her life following the very difficult tragedy she experienced in losing her husband and daughter within a year and a half of each other. A Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for nonfiction, and it’s a must for anyone in grief. In Didion’s words: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Didion speaks about her daughter’s death in her 2011 book, Blue Nights.


Joan Didion: The Center Cannot Hold is an intimate, affectionate portrait of a life made by Didion’s nephew, Griffin Dunne. Of his aunt, he said to Vanity Fair, “I asked her and from the moment she said yes, I said oh boy, I’m in for it now. This person means a lot to a lot of people.” 


Joan Didion is best known for her years spent narrating some of the biggest moments in recent American history—1960s San Francisco, the Manson Murders, etc. Didion explores the disintegration of American morals and descent into cultural chaos. 


Today, Didion, who is now 83-years-old, continues to write and has just published another nonfiction novel called South and West: From a Notebook, which is based on notes she took while travelling in Alabama and Mississippi in the 1970s.


Joan Didion

Image Via Pinterest


Feature Image Via Netflix