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2005 National Book Awards Winner

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Joan Didion
The Year of Magical Thinking

Acceptance Speech

BRENDA WINEAPPLE: Unfortunately, I was asked to say a few words about the process of choosing the nonfiction finalists. Fortunately, I can think of only four words: Five hundred and forty-two. That was the number of nominations this year, the most, I’m told, ever. Terrific biographies, eloquent histories, riveting memoirs, erudite and charming books about physics and physicists, about mathematics, about rock musicians and paintings and painters, heart piercing books about Iraq and Vietnam and veterans of yesteryear, about immigrants and travel and the myriad peoples of America, about American
Joan Didion
Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin Images
presidents and power, about women prisoners in courtrooms and crossword puzzles and illness and trees and religions and rugs, as well as books about marriage, about mountains, about lightening and, of course, about that most exciting of all endeavors, the writing life.

With such variety of subject matter and style, ours then was a daunting, humbling, often demoralizing task, true jury duty. After a certain point, I talked to no one, saw no one, went no place and for sustenance depended completely on the four enormously talented writers who for several months were the only people on earth except my husband who knew, understood and forgave the manic obsessiveness that our task entailed. These extraordinary judges are Mark Bowden, Dennis Covington, Tony Horwitz and Gregory Wolfe. [Applause] I thank them for their passion, their conviction, their stubbornness, their equanimity, their incredibly hard work and, best, for their ability to articulate over and over what good writing means, what it can do, how it changes us.

Together, we congratulate our five outstanding finalists:

Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion by Alan Burdick published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius
by Leo Damrosch, published by Houghton Mifflin.
Jeanne Birdsall and Joan Didion
Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin Images

The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion, published by Knopf.
102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, published by Times Books.
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild, published by Houghton Mifflin.

This year’s National Book Award in Nonfiction goes to The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

JOAN DIDION: There is hardly anything I can say about this except thank you, and thank you to everybody at Knopf who accepted my idea that I could sit down and write a book about something that was not exactly anything but personal and that it would work. Thank you all. [Applause]

From the Publisher

A stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage and the life that surrounds it, in good times and bad.

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction. Joan Didion’s Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River. Her book, The White Album, was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 1981.

Judges' Citation

The Year of Magical Thinking is a masterpiece in two genres: memoir and investigative journalism. The subject of the memoir is the year after the sudden death of the writer's husband. The target of the investigation, though, is the nature of folly and time. The writer attends to details, assembles a chronology, and asks hard questions of the witnesses, most notably herself. But she imagines that the story she tells can be revised, the world righted, her husband returned, alive. What she offers is an unflinching journey into intimacy and grief.



Didion interviewed in
The Paris Review

© Brigitte Lacombe
The Art of Nonfiction, No. 1 , Issue 176, Spring 2006

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