Personal History: Bret Easton Ellis

The American Psycho author remembers discovering Joan Didion.

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I came across Joan Didion in a high school writing class that was taught by my mentor, my English teacher Mr. Robbins. Slouching Towards Bethlehem was a revelation. What is so apparent when you’re reading those essays is that it really was in the style that the meaning of everything was located. It wasn’t just the reportage; it was the actual style. And I had been working on a novel, and I realized, This is how I want to sound. I can’t copy her stuff—she’s too good a writer—but I did with Didion what she did with Hemingway: I sat and typed up paragraph after paragraph of her work in order to figure out how she did it. A writer only needs one or two influences, and I had mine. But I have to say, the thing that most lastingly stayed with me is Didion’s individualism and her staunch belief in being your own person and in sticking to your guns, in that Californian, pioneer-woman way. Even if it wasn’t fashionable in that moment, that kind of individualism that she extolled, in the end, mattered more than the style to me. •

—As told to Steffie Nelson


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