I recently conducted an interview with Joan Didion. We spoke over the phone; she from her hotel in Washington. She was on tour for Blue Nights, a reminisence about the life and death of her daughter, Quintana, and Didion’s thoughts about her own mortality. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting highlights from this interview, then it will all be posted on The Believer website.
- Sheila Heti
THE BELIEVER: When you were a little girl you wanted to be an actress, not a writer?
JOAN DIDION: Right.
BLVR: But you said it’s okay, because writing is in some ways a performance. When you’re writing, are you performing a character?
JD: You’re not even a character. You’re doing a performance. Somehow writing has always seemed to me to have an element of performance.
BLVR: What is the nature of that performance? I mean, an actor performs a character—
JD: Sometimes an actor performs a character, but sometimes an actor just performs. With writing, I don’t think it’s performing a character, really, if the character you’re performing is yourself. I don’t see that as playing a role. It’s just appearing in public.
BLVR: Appearing in public and sort of saying lines—
JD: But not somebody else’s lines. Your lines. Look at me—this is me, is, I think, what you’re saying.
BLVR: And do you feel like that me is a pretty stable thing, or unstable? Is it consistent through one’s life as a writer?
JD: I think it develops into a fairly stable thing over time. I think it’s not at all stable at first. But then you kind of grow into the role you have made for yourself.
BLVR: How would you gauge the distance between the role you have made for yourself—
JD: —and the real person?
JD: Well, I don’t know. The real person becomes the role you have made for yourself.