"Writers (even the only possible writers), it is universally believed, can always be replaced, which is why they are so frequently referred to in the plural." (After Henry, Joan Didion)
This week I've sent off 3 pieces for publication and 4 querries.
In the evening I read After Henry, a book dedicated to Henry Robbins Didion's editor from 1966 to 1979.
This week Ms. Didion cancelled her April Tour dates due to an injury. I received the email about this cancellation while reading "Los Angeles Days", a detailed history of the writer's strike that brought Los Angeles to a stop in 1988.
"Writers, it is believed by many, are even best replaced, hired serially, since they bring, in this view, only a limited amount of talent and energy to bear on what directors often call their 'visions.'"
Didion's "Los Angeles Days" forces us to examine labor (though many may not view writing as labor), strikes and negotiations, and the slippery disrespected position writers had in Los Angeles during the eighties. These same ideas reign today: people want to read for free (not pay writers for writing) and most of the entertainment industry has gotten rid of writers (completely) by going real.
The final section of After Henry address crime in New York ("Sentimental Journeys") and reminds me of the stories flying around the internet about the murder of young Trayvon Martin.
In "Sentimental Journeys" Didion writes: "crimes are universally understood to be news to the extent that they offer, however erroneously, a story. . .in the 1986 Central Park death of Jennifer Levin, then eighteen, at the hands of Robert Chambers, then nineteen, the 'story,' extrapolated more or less from thin air but left largely uncorrected, had to do not with people living wretchedly and marginally on the underside of where they wanted to be." Instead the stories that win out are those with historical freight, fortified by their weight. They flatten everything into slogans that confirm hate, fear and ignorance, and shape our thoughts and actions. Didion asks us to be consious of it all--she refuses to not ask the most difficult questions, especially of herself.
As I have been reading the Everyman's Library collected nonfiction I've been angry by the framing of her as a fragile woman. Most articles and interviews from the Blue Nights tour have begun with a listing of two vital statistics: her age and weight. The third most relevant point being that she is alone (after the death of her husband and daughter). I don't really know how much Leslie Silko or Jhumpa Larihi weigh and I don't care. What characterized Didion's collected nonfiction is her strength and audacity--both irreplacable.
These words define good writing and good writers.