Emma is curating an online book club, Belletrist, along with a friend of hers, Karah Preiss, read how this came about and sign up here! The first book chosen is Joan Didion’s South and West, read on how she fell in love with the author’s work here. Below you can read an interview she did with the author. I have added photos from the site to her official social media album for now, may separate it at a later date.
I’ve loved Joan Didion’s writing since I discovered her work at age eighteen (I share more about this in my essay on what Joan means to me), so to get the chance to interview her for Belletrist was an honor. We share a few things in common: our fondness for California; our journaling habit; and our love of acting.
We were able to dive into all of that and more during our conversation about her new book, South and West. In the process of interviewing this iconic author, and one of my personal heroes, I was once again overwhelmed by her wisdom, her work ethic, and her commitment to experiencing life.
Emma: What was it like to go back through your notes? Sometimes I will watch a movie that I acted in and have zero recollection of the scene or ever even being in the movie. Do you ever read some notes & have no memory of writing them?
Joan: No—all too often I remember everything about writing them. I remember being in the places that I talk about, and wishing I could have a less clear idea of where I went wrong. Going through those notes was interesting, because they showed me a younger version of myself. That version was less interesting than I had hoped she was.
Emma: What came first: the idea of publishing something about the South and the West, or did you go through your notebooks and think to yourself, “I might have something here?”
Joan: I went through my notebooks and thought I might have something here. I’ve yet to discover whether I did or not. I know when most pieces are finished, but with these I never knew. At the moment, I don’t seem to be any closer to knowing.
Emma: Do you feel like being a journalist makes it hard for you to live in “the moment?” For me, as an actress, it’s hard because you’re constantly using your life for your work. I guess what I mean is, when is your life just your life?
Joan: Your life is always just your life regardless of how you use it. I find it difficult to live in the moment. It’s hard to do that because we would rather not. We prefer to live at the furthest reach from ourselves.
Emma: In an interview in The Paris Review, you said that when you were a little girl you wrote stories, but you really wanted to be an actress. What changed? Did you ever go on auditions? What was that like for you? Do you think there’s more or less pressure and rejection in writing than in acting?
Joan: I think there’s the same amount of pressure. Writing and acting are the same in that each involves an exposure of some kind. Writing and acting differ only in the relationship each has with its audience. I never stopped wanting to be an actress—I still want to be one. I played little theater parts in Sacramento at the Repertory Theater, and I did some other things. Nothing major, though.
Emma: You’ve said before that writers are always selling somebody out. One of many of my fears about writing is that I will write something that will hurt someone, or I will write something that will come back to hurt me—that somehow the person I was when I was writing will be unsavory to the person I will be when I am reading what I wrote. How do you reconcile this? How do you let these fears go?
Joan: You just have to let those fears go.