Born in Sacramento, California, Didion graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956 with a BA in English. Much of Didion's writing draws upon her life in California, particularly during the 1960s as the world in which she grew up "began to seem remote". Her non-fiction portraits of conspiracy theorists, paranoiacs, and sociopaths are now considered part of the canon of American literature. She has developed a very distinct writing style in which commas, and imposters (not to mention her frequent employment of parentheses) litter her sentences. Written in narrative form, they are usually filled with different concepts as well. She employs 'narrative' almost as a literary tool, such as citing another's essay in order to reach the reader. Often failing to structure her essays around a singular point as is conventional, Didion touches on numerous issues that can be tied into (however remotely) her original topic.
Didion is the author of five novels and eight books of nonfiction. Her early collections of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) -- a book described in one review as helping to define California as "the paranoia capital of the world" -- made her famous as an observer of American politics and culture with a distinctive style of reporting that mixed personal reflection and social analysis. These qualities led her to be associated with members of the New Journalism such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, though Didion's ties to that movement have never been considered particularly strong.
In 2001, Didion published Political Fictions, a collection of essays which had first appeared in the New York Review of Books. Issues and personalities covered in the essays included The Religious Right, Newt Gingrich, and the Reagan administration.
Where I Was From (2003), a memoir, explores the mythologies of California, and the author's relationship to her birthplace and to her mother. Indirectly, it also serves as a rumination on the American frontier myth and the culture that we see today in California as a direct consequence of a population of survivalists who made it "through the Sierra," finally posing the question "at what cost progress?"
Didion's latest book, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published October 4, 2005. The book-length essay chronicles the year following her husband's death, during which their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, was also gravely ill. The book is both a vivid personal account of losing a partner after 40 years of professional collaboration and marriage, and a broader attempt to describe the mechanism that governs grief and mourning. Didion later adapted the memoir into a one-woman play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007 to mixed reviews and starred her friend Vanessa Redgrave. The play includes the event of Quintana's death, technically spanning its timeline to over a year and a half.