Personal History: Janelle Brown

Joan Didion’s work inspires the next generation of California writers.

janelle brown

Discovering Joan Didion was like seeing a path for myself as a writer. She occupied this place in modern letters that felt unique and felt like something I could identify with. Here was this iconoclastic woman writing about damaged women in this very California setting, and for someone who grew up in California and recognized that kind of damage around me, she showed me that these kinds of stories can mean something to the world. I have always written about California—I’ve never set a book anywhere else—and she captured something about the vastness of the culture. It’s funny, I hadn’t really thought about it, but my new book, I’ll Be You, may be the most Joan Didion–like, thematically. It’s got Hollywood in the background, the desert wellness culture, the female protagonist who’s dealing with her addiction issues—subjects Didion wrote about 40 years ago. She was able to identify where the culture was turning, and in what directions the winds were blowing, way before anyone else.•

—As told to Steffie Nelson

Janelle Brown is the author of Pretty Things, Watch Me Disappear, and others.
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