Deep into Didion

A closer look at Alta Journal’s spring 2022 issue.

alta journal spring 2022 issue
Alta Journal

Alta Journal’s Spring 2022 issue is a tribute to the life and legacy of Joan Didion. Anchored by a special section packed with pieces about the late author, the issue offers a celebration of California through the life and work of the first lady of California letters.

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.

In his opening letter, Alta’s managing editor, Blaise Zerega, notes that the task of paying homage to a talent like Didion is a daunting one, but our contributors were up to the challenge.

Alta’s books editor, David L. Ulin (also an editor of Didion’s Library of America anthologies), writes a beautiful remembrance of the author’s ethos and what she meant to him. “She broke the rules with impunity,” Ulin writes, “or made up new ones.” (Ulin also contributed a Didion primer for new and old readers.)

Karl Taro Greenfeld captures the inexpressible feeling of placing one’s trust and deep admiration in a particular adult as you grow up and what it’s like to feel truly seen by them. In his case, that adult was Didion, whom he knew from his family’s trips to the beach house in Malibu that she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, occupied for many years. The stories of Didion’s support make Greenfeld’s piece one of the most touching in the issue. “When I published a piece about the death of a friend…it was Joan who left a simple message on my office voicemail: ‘Great, great, great’ and that was it. No name. But I knew who it was.”

Also in the package, Didion’s nephew—the actor, director, and writer Griffin Dunne—details the experience of making his documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. Lisa Kennedy writes about the film adaptation of Didion’s second novel, Play It As It Lays. Illustrator and writer Anita Kunz delivers a crash course in what you need to know about the “celebrated writer and journalist and a keen observer of human nature.”

Elsewhere in this issue, Ajay Orona explains what an NFT really is; Santi Elijah Holley writes about a new Tupac exhibit; Denise Hamilton investigates how wild boars started running amok through the suburban streets of California; Peter C. Mancall reckons with the legacy of Sir Francis Drake; Joy Lanzendorfer checks in on cloud seeding; Joseph Giovannini looks at Frank Gehry’s new building for the Colburn School; and Keenan Norris introduces readers to Oakland’s first poet laureate, Ayodele Nzinga, who was “an African griot long before she was Oakland’s anointed wordsmith.” Oh, and thirsty burros: Mecca author Susan Straight writes about them, too.

Come for Didion. Stay for this fascinating mix of articles, essays, and reviews as well as fiction by Karen Tei Yamashita and a close reading of the poetry of Ada Limón by John Freeman.

You can become a digital-only member for as little as $3 a month to enjoy the whole issue and Alta’s archive.•

Nasim Ghasemiyeh is an assistant editor at Alta Journal.
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