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Didion Brings 'Magical Thinking' to Broadway

In her 2005 book The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion chronicled the sudden death of her husband of nearly 40 years — the writer John Gregory Dunne — the illness of their daughter Quintana and Didion's grief and dislocation in the year following Dunne's death.

Didion has transformed this memoir into a one-woman play starring Vanessa Redgrave. It opens on Broadway in March.

Redgrave calls herself "the interpreter, the communicator, the storyteller" of Didion's writing. "And I'm really in effect saying, 'This is what I know.' And I'm a shadow because I'm giving voice to what Joan knows or discovered."

For Didion, recasting The Year of Magical Thinking into a play offered a deeper knowledge of what happened to her.

"For me, it's part of the process of understanding anything," she says. "Because until I have gotten it outside of myself, I don't understand it."

Didion says that everything in the book was "reimagined" for the play. "You didn't start with the book," she says. "You started with the experiences that had led to the book and then you recast them from a considerably different perspective," she says.

Much had changed in the nearly two years since the book was written. Didion's daughter died shortly after she finished writing the book.

"But also I had had a slightly larger perspective than I had had when I was writing the book," Didion says. "When I was writing the book, I did not know whether or not I would survive. When I was writing the play, I knew that I had survived."

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Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.