Between the lines: Joan Didion gets an honor she deserves
By Allen Pierleoni
The Sacramento Bee
September 22, 2014
Fifth-generation Californian, novelist and essayist Joan Didion, who was born and raised in Sacramento, will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame on Oct. 1.
She and six other prominent Californians (“represent the very best of California,” said Gov. Jerry Brown in a statement. An exhibit of the inductees’ “personal artifacts highlighting their lives and achievements” will be displayed at the California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento, beginning Oct. 2.
Didion began her writing career at Vogue in New York City after winning an essay contest sponsored by the magazine. The prize was a job there. She went on to write five novels (including “Play It As It Lays,” made into a movie), five screenplays (including “True Confessions”) and a dozen nonfiction titles.
One of the most definitive books ever written on California’s counterculture in the 1960s and its center in San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury district was “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” her insightful collection of essays now regarded as a contemporary classic.
Didion, 79, won the National Book Award for “The Year of Magical Thinking, “ a pain-filled memoir focused on her struggle with the grief caused by the sudden death in 2003 of her husband of 40 years, writer John Gregory Dunne, and the illness of the couple’s daughter, Quintana Roo,who died shortly before the book was published in 2005.
Joining Didion as Hall of Fame inductees are basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, civil rights advocate Charlotta Bass, film director Francis Ford Coppola, social justice advocate Fred Ross Sr., climatologist Stephen Schneider and humanitarian Mimi Silbert.
The public can watch the arrival of the inductees from 6 to 7 p.m. Oct. 1 in a viewing area in front of the museum, followed by a webcast of the 7 p.m. ceremony at www.californiamuseum.org.
Litquake festival in S.F.
The 15th annual Litquake literary festival (and spectacle) will shake San Francisco Oct. 10-18 when more than 800 writers, authors, poets, actors, musicians and comedians converge for a medley of serious and off-the-wall events (many of them free).
It’s an all-genres, all-arts carnival that includes seminars, panel discussions, workshops, hundreds of readings, drama, art and music, along with special presentations by editors and premier writers. “Edgy” and “provocative” are the operative words. Most of the participants are based in the Bay Area, but many will arrive from out of country.
To drop a few names: Pulitzer Prize-winner Adam Johnson (who appeared for the Bee Book club for “The Orphan Master’s Son”), McSweeney’s publisher Dave Eggers, Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler and National Book Critics Award winner Nicholson Baker (“Double Fold”).
Co-founder Jane Ganahl sent an email last week: “Litquake embodies the spirit of San Francisco,” she wrote. “We owe a heavy debt to the literary mavericks who have thrived here since the 1800s, from the wry Bohemian Ambrose Bierce to Beat icon Jack Kerouac, to Amy Tan and Armistead Maupin – two authors who exemplify both the Bay Area and the Litquake sensibility. Litquake sprang from chaos and occasionally descends into it, but we’re proud of always being entertaining.”
The grand finale will be Lit Crawl, a “literary pub-crawl” through the Mission District, featuring a multitude of happenings at 101 venues, paired with plenty of food, drink and entertainment. Check out the pictures at litcrawl.tumblr.com. For the full schedule and to buy tickets: www.litquake.org.
Inside California’s gangs
Journalist and Nieman Fellow Julia Reynolds risked everything during the 12 years she reported on the Nuestra Familia gang, based in Salinas, and its subset gang, the Norteños. NF originated among inmates in California prisons in the 1960s, became a criminal enterprise and spread throughout Northern California.
Reynolds’ book “Blood in the Fields” is a scrutiny of the inner workings of gang culture and its attendant violence and illegal dealings, with startling stories of some of its former members (Chicago Review Press, $27, 368 pages). Part of it details Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s campaign to destroy NF.
Reynolds, a Monterey County Herald reporter, also wrote and co-produced the PBS documentary “Nuestra Familia, Our Family.”
“I hung out with these guys, watching them do what they do,” she said in a recent phone interview. “One guy I followed around for two years was a drug dealer and I was fascinated by what made him tick. It wasn’t until later that I thought of all the bad stuff that could have happened. I’m not an especially brave person, just a curious reporter.”
Reynolds has two upcoming appearances in Sacramento:
• 2 p.m. Saturday at Avid Reader at the Tower, 1600 Broadway, (916) 441-4400.
• 2 p.m. Oct. 25 at the California Capital Book Festival, 1400 J St., (916) 307-1713,www.ccbookfestival.com. Sacramento Bee courts reporter Andy Furillo will interview Reynolds on stage.
Stories on Stage
Stories on Stage presents monthly programs of fiction read and performed by area actors, set at the Sacramento Poetry Center. American River College professor Michael Spurgeon will headline the next event, 7:30 p.m. Friday at 1719 25th St.; a $5 donation is suggested. Information:email@example.com.
Spurgeon is the author of the novel “Let the Water Hold Me Down” (Ad Lumen, $17, 372 pages) and two books of verse. Appearing with him will be Anara Guard, author of “Remedies for Hunger” (New Wind, $12, 140 pages).
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.