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Writer Joan Didion, chronicler of contemporary American society, dies at 87

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Writer Joan Didion, chronicler of contemporary American society, dies at 87
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Writer Joan Didion is escorted to her seat after U.S. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2012 National Humanities Medal during a ceremony at the White House in Washington July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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(Refiles to restore missing words to lede)

(Reuters) -Author Joan Didion, whose essays, memoirs, novels and screenplays chronicled contemporary American society, as well as her grief over the deaths of her husband and daughter, has died at the age of 87.

The cause of death was Parkinson’s disease, her publisher Knopf said on Thursday in a statement.

Didion first emerged as a writer of substance in the late 1960s as an early practitioner of “new journalism,” which allowed writers to take a narrative, more personalized perspective.

Her 1968 essay collection “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” a title borrowed from poet William Butler Yeats, looked at the culture of her native California. The title essay offered an unsympathetic view of the emerging hippie culture in San Francisco and a New York Times review called the book “some of the finest magazine pieces published by anyone in this country in recent years.”

Didion had an air of casual glamour and writerly cool and in her heyday frequently was typically photographed in oversized sunglasses or lounging nonchalantly with a cigarette dangling from a hand. She was 80 in 2015 when the French fashion house Celine used her as a model in an ad campaign for its sunglasses.

Tragedy inadvertently led to a career resurgence in the 2000s as Didion wrote of the deaths of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, in “The Year of Magical Thinking” and daughter Quintana Roo Dunne in “Blue Nights.”

Didion’s works were insightful, confessional and tinged with ennui and skepticism. The Los Angeles Times praised her as an “unparalleled stylist” with “piercing insights and exquisite command of language.”

British writer Martin Amis referred to Didion as the “poet of the Great Californian Emptiness” and she was especially incisive in writing about the state. Her 1970 novel “Play It as It Lays” showed Los Angeles, through the eyes of a troubled actor, to be glamorous and vapid while the 2003 essay collection “Where I Was From” was about the culture of the state, as well as herself and her family’s long history there.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means,” Didion said in a speech at her alma mater, the University of California in Berkeley, in 1975.

FROM CALIFORNIA TO NEW YORK

Her life and career were captured in the 2017 documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew, actor-filmmaker Griffin Dunne. The New Yorker magazine called the film, which borrowed its title from another Yeats work, “an intimate, affectionate, and partial portrait.”

Didion ended up in New York by winning a college essay contest that provided an internship at Vogue magazine in the late 1950s. She met Dunne there two years later.

Didion and Dunne, who were married nearly 40 years, split their lives between Southern California and New York and managed to be leading figures in both literary circles and Hollywood. The parties at their Malibu beach house, where Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter before “Star Wars” fame, drew crowds that included singer Janis Joplin, moviemakers Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese and actor Warren Beatty, who was reportedly infatuated with Didion.

Dunne was demonstrative and garrulous while Didion could come off as introverted. Their marriage was rocky at times and Dunne moved to Las Vegas for a while. In an essay in “The White Album,” Didion wrote that they once took a vacation in Hawaii “in lieu of filing for divorce.”

Through it all they edited each other’s work and collaborated on screenplays for the 1976 remake of “A Star Is Born,” “The Panic in Needle Park,” the 1971 film that gave Al Pacino his first starring role, as well as the movie adaptations of “Play It as It Lays” and Dunne’s novel “True Confessions.”

The couple moved to New York in 1988 and after Dunne suffered a heart attack at the dinner table in 2003, Didion wrote of the ensuing heartache in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” she wrote.

Twenty months after Dunne’s death, Didion returned to the place of grief when Quintana Roo died from acute pancreatitis after a series of health problems, which she chronicled in “Blue Nights.”

The diminutive Didion dwindled to 75 pounds (34 kg) after the deaths but began to come out of it by working on a one-woman stage version of “Magical Thinking” that opened on Broadway in 2007 with Vanessa Redgrave starring and David Hare directing.

Didion, whose other books included the novel “A Book of Common Prayer” and non-fiction works “Miami” and “Salvador” was presented the National Medal of Arts in 2013 by President Barack Obama.

Sports & General

‘Stand up to the gun lobby,’ Biden urges Americans after Texas massacre

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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hold a bilateral meeting alongside the Quad Summit at Kantei Palace in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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By Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Americans must stand up to the gun lobby and pressure members of Congress to pass sensible gun laws, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday after the killing of at least 19 children and two teachers in a Texas school shooting.

“As a nation, we have to ask when in God’s name we’re going to stand up to the gun lobby, when in God’s name we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done,” Biden said in a televised speech, his voice rising to a crescendo.

“I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”

Authorities said an 18-year-old gunman opened fire earlier in the day at an elementary school in Texas, about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio, before he apparently was killed by police officers.

Mass shootings in America are often followed by public protests and calls for action by Democratic politicians, but federal gun safety policies like background checks that are common in other countries have failed in the face of strong Republican opposition.

Biden demanded action on Tuesday night without laying out actions he intended to take, nor call for a specific vote in Congress or policy.

“I hoped when I became president I would not have to do this, again,” a visibly shaken Biden said, decrying the death of “beautiful, innocent” second, third and fourth graders in “another massacre.”

Biden, whose life has been marked by family tragedy, said the parents in Texas “will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them,” he said.

He asked Americans to fight the feeling of powerlessness from seeing yet another mass shooting.

The United States experienced 61 “active shooter” incidents last year, up sharply from the prior year and the highest tally in over 20 years, the FBI reported this week.

The shooting poses for Biden, already facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, another crisis on top of 40-year high inflation rates and the war in Ukraine.

A mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store 10 days ago increased pressure on the Biden administration to make good its vow to crack down on gun violence, and the killing of elementary school children is likely to increase that pressure.

When he ran for the White House, Biden promised to push gun safety measures and reduce the country’s tens of thousands of annual gun deaths. Biden and his fellow Democrats have failed to get the votes in the Senate needed to pass their bills.

In 1994, Biden, then a senator from Delaware, ushered in a 10-year ban on assault weapons with a close 52-48 vote in the U.S. Senate that was not renewed in 2004.

“When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid could walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons, is just wrong,” Biden said.

The United States is the most heavily armed society in the world, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research group. Small, rural, often Republican-led states where gun ownership is widespread have disproportionate influence in the U.S. Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Biden was briefed about the shooting aboard Air Force One as he returned from a trip to Asia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). He called Texas Governor Greg Abbott to offer any assistance needed.

In a proclamation issued before he landed, Biden ordered the flags at the White House and at U.S. federal and public buildings to be flown at half-staff until sunset on May 28.

Biden lost his first wife and a baby daughter in a 1972 car accident. A son Beau died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.

Active shooter incidents up 52% last year https://www.reuters.com/world/us/fbi-counts-61-active-shooter-incidents-last-year-up-52-2020-2022-05-24/Grim chronology of mass shootings in the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/us/grim-chronology-mass-shootings-united-states-2022-05-15/

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Sports & General

‘We have to act,’ Biden says after Texas massacre, offers no specifics

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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hold a bilateral meeting alongside the Quad Summit at Kantei Palace in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

2/2

By Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden asked Americans to stand up to the gun lobby and pressure members of Congress to pass sensible gun laws after the killing of at least 18 children and an adult in a Texas school shooting on Tuesday.

Authorities said an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at an elementary school in south Texas, about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio before he apparently was killed by police officers.

Biden demanded action on Tuesday night in wake of the horror of the elementary school shooting, but did not lay out actions he intended to take, nor call for a specific vote in Congress or policy.

“I hoped when I became president I would not have to do this, again,” a visibly shaken Biden said, decrying the death of “beautiful, innocent” second, third and fourth graders in “another massacre.”

Biden, whose life has been marked by family tragedy, said the parents in Texas “will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them,” he said.

He asked Americans to fight the feeling of powerlessness from seeing yet another mass shooting.

“As a nation, we have to ask when in God’s name we’re going to stand up to the gun lobby, when in God’s name we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done,” Biden said, his voice rising to a crescendo. “I am sick and tired. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”

Mass shootings in America are often followed by public protests and calls for action by Democratic politicians, but federal gun safety policies like background checks that are common in other countries have failed in the face of strong Republican opposition.

The United States experienced 61 “active shooter” incidents last year, up sharply from the prior year and the highest tally in over 20 years, the FBI reported this week.

The shooting poses for Biden, already facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, another crisis on top of 40-year high inflation rates and the war in Ukraine.

A mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store 10 days ago increased pressure on the Biden administration to make good its vow to crack down on gun violence, and the killing of elementary school children is likely to increase that pressure.

When he ran for the White House, Biden promised to push gun safety measures and reduce the country’s tens of thousands of annual gun deaths. Biden and his fellow Democrats have failed to get the votes in the Senate needed to pass their bills.

In 1994, Biden, then a senator from Delaware, ushered in a 10-year ban on assault weapons with a close 52-48 vote in the U.S. Senate that was not renewed in 2004.

“When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid could walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons, is just wrong,” Biden said.

The United States is the most heavily armed society in the world, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research group. Small, rural, often Republican-led states where gun ownership is widespread have disproportionate influence in the U.S. Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Biden was briefed about the shooting aboard Air Force One as he returned from a trip to Asia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). He called Texas Governor Greg Abbott to offer any assistance needed.

In a proclamation issued before he landed, Biden ordered the flags at the White House and at U.S. federal and public buildings to be flown at half-staff until sunset on May 28.

Biden lost his first wife and a baby daughter in a 1972 car accident. A son Beau died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.

Active shooter incidents up 52% last year https://www.reuters.com/world/us/fbi-counts-61-active-shooter-incidents-last-year-up-52-2020-2022-05-24/Grim chronology of mass shootings in the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/us/grim-chronology-mass-shootings-united-states-2022-05-15/

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Sports & General

Biden asks Americans to stand up to gun lobby after Texas ‘massacre’

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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hold a bilateral meeting alongside the Quad Summit at Kantei Palace in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

2/2

By Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden asked Americans to stand up to the gun lobby and pressure members of Congress to pass sensible gun laws after the killing of at least 18 children and an adult in a Texas school shooting on Tuesday.

Authorities said an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at an elementary school in south Texas, about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio before he apparently was killed by police officers.

“I hoped when I became president I would not have to do this, again,” a visibly shaken Biden said, decrying the death of “beautiful, innocent” second, third and fourth graders in “another massacre.”

Their parents “will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them,” he said.

“As a nation, we have to ask, ‘When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?'”

“We have to act,” he said and suggested reinstating the assault weapons ban and other “common sense gun laws.”

The shooting hands Biden, already facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, another crisis on top of 40-year high inflation rates and the war in Ukraine.

A mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store 10 days ago increased pressure from backers of tougher gun laws for the Biden administration to make good its vow to crack down on gun violence.

When he ran for the White House, Biden promised to push gun safety measures and reduce the country’s tens of thousands of annual gun deaths. Biden and his fellow Democrats have failed to get enough votes in Congress for background checks for gun purchases or other proposed bills.

The United States is the most heavily armed society in the world, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research group. Small, rural states where gun ownership is widespread have disproportionate influence in the U.S. Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Biden was briefed about the shooting aboard Air Force One as he returned from a trip to Asia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). He called Texas Governor Greg Abbott to offer any assistance needed.

“His prayers are with the families impacted by this awful event,” Jean-Pierre said.

In a proclamation issued before he landed, Biden ordered the flags at the White House and at U.S. federal and public buildings to be flown at half-staff until sunset on May 28.

Active shooter incidents up 52% last year https://www.reuters.com/world/us/fbi-counts-61-active-shooter-incidents-last-year-up-52-2020-2022-05-24/

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