Didion Saluted Miami

Joan Didion put Miami under a microscope 30 years ago — and saw the city of today | Editorial

Author and screenwriter Joan Didion died this week at 87. Joan Didion put Miami under a microscope 30 years ago — and saw the city of today | Editorial by the Miami Herald Editorial Board.

Famed author Joan Didion died this week, more than 30 years after Miami caught her eye, and she turned her sharp, insightful sense of observation on us.

Didion began visiting the city in 1985 to soak in what made it tick. By 1987 she had published her book, simply titled “Miami.” It made a splash.

The Los Angeles Times’ obituary described Didion — a California girl — as a “novelist and screenwriter who chronicled American culture and consciousness with cool detachment, humor and a brittle awareness of disorder.”

Cuban exiles and their impact on Miami, socially and politically, were at the crux of Didion’s book, but “Miami” also talked about the newly built Metrorail, the shame of Overtown, drug dealers everywhere and the dreamers and scammers that this lured — and still does.

She was one of the first literary voices, before Tom Wolfe tried with “Back to Blood,” to notice there is something unusual and unique about us. Something that happens when a city channels Casablanca, a place where refugees, Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans turn a foreign city into an outpost of the political upheaval in their homelands. And how that influences that rest of us.

Here’s a review of “Miami” from the Los Angeles Times in 1987:

“The theme of Joan Didion’s book is the powerfully seductive exploration of the political maelstrom in Miami. She sees, in the vortex plotting by exiles against Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua and in the splintering rivalries among the exiles themselves, something far beyond ideology. They have become, she argues — so vividly that you can smell every crushed frangipani blossom — an invasion, a tropicalization of the causes dear to the American Right; a contamination, if you like … Miami is us.”

Back then, Miami was called the city of the future, this nation’s future. And Didion was astute enough to see it first

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