The Setting and the Story: Joan Didion’s “The Santa Ana”

For Secondary teachers, especially! Why I love this—I LOVE nonfiction writing…and writing of a place, a setting you know well is the kind of writing to which all students can make amazing connections. Secondary (and middle school) teachers would benefit from immersion in this blog! So glad I found it just to lose myself in the contents.

Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

VivianWagnerVivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Zone 3, McSweeney’s, The Pinch, Silk Road Review, and other journals, and she’s the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music.


Every time I read Joan Didion’s description of the hot, dry Santa Ana winds I get homesick. I’m a native Californian, but I’ve lived for many years in a village in southeastern Ohio, and we just don’t get winds like that around here.

Didion’s Los Angeles is, for many of my students, a foreign world. Yet I’ve found that her essay, “The Santa Ana,” inspires them as they describe their own Midwestern and Appalachian worlds. It’s an essay, in short, about the importance of setting, and about how the place where a story happens cannot be separated from the…

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