D. J. Waldie

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D. J. Waldie
Waldie, D. J. Portrait 2012.jpg
Born (1948-09-15) September 15, 1948 (age 66)
Lakewood, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer, translator, city administrator
Education California State University, Long Beach; University of California, Irvine
Notable works Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir
Where We Are Now
California Romantica

D. J. Waldie (Donald J. Waldie) is an American essayist, memoirist, translator, and editor who also is the former Deputy City Manager of Lakewood, California.

Although best known for his memoir Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1995 and 2005, W. W. Norton), Waldie is regarded as a thoughtful observer of Los Angeles' history, politics, and culture. "Nobody 'sees' L.A. with more eloquence than D.J. Waldie," noted Susan Brenneman, Los Angeles Times Deputy Op-Ed Editor, in May 2014. And "Waldie ... is one of the writers responsible for developing a Southern California aesthetic in which what’s most vivid about the place is everything we might take for granted somewhere else," said David Ulin, book critic of the Los Angeles Times in April 2014.

Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir[edit]

Waldie's Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1995 and 2005, W. W. Norton) is his account of growing up in the 1950s in Lakewood, then California's largest planned suburb.[1] Lakewood was the first of its kind on the west coast and is regraded as a parallel to Levittown, New York, the original, post-World War II, mass-produced, tract-house development in America.

Waldie breaks the text into 316 sections, some no longer than a sentence or two. Some deal with the author’s experiences, both in first and third person narration. These memories concentrate on his Catholic upbringing and the deaths of his parents. The majority of the sections detail the historical, geographical, political, and cultural factors both preceding the development of Lakewood's 17,000 homes and following Lakewood's incorporation as a city in 1954. Waldie focuses particularly on the three developers who built Lakewood in the early 1950s, devoting long passages to the intricacies of the development process. Other passages consider how suburban places have been viewed by their critics, with particular reference to the aerial photographs of William A. Garnett.[2] Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir ultimately becomes a memoir of a both person and a place.

Critical Reception of Holy Land[edit]

Holy Land received generally positive reviews on its publication, although some reviewers were unimpressed by the fragmentary style and Waldie's appreciation of suburban lives.

Novelist and memorist Joan Didion described Holy Land as “Infinitely moving and powerful, just dead-on right, and absolutely original.” Dr. Kevin Starr, historian and author of the series Americans and the California Dream said, “I have read hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more, memoirs of California. Holy Land ranks with the best of them. With spare fact, Waldie has managed to present the rise of suburban Southern California in its full complexity.”

In her review in the New York Times in July 1996, Michiko Kakutani concluded, "Moving back and forth effortlessly between the personal and the communal, between memories of his own childhood and statistics combed from public records, (Waldie) creates a moving portrait of his hometown, and in doing so he manages to give this faceless suburb, long held up as an archetype of suburban anonymity, a local habitation and a name.[3]"

Holy Land was called one of the 25 most significant books on Southern California architecture and urbanism by Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, in 2012.

“If Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo had collaborated on a study of an archetypal American postwar suburb, the result would be D. J. Waldie's visionary history and memoir of Lakewood, California,” said Robert Fishman, Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, in 2013.

Holy Land captivated me when it first came out. It still astonishes. It’s no easier to describe now than it was before it became a classic of American autobiography. Waldie’s range is staggering – from intimate, touchingly respectful revelations of family life and spiritual reality to a precise history of land development and public policy regarding water use (and don’t imagine this is the boring part). Waldie has written nothing less than the spiritual autobiography of the midcentury American suburban dream. It proves to be a subject worthy of tragedy and of his remarkable elegy,” wrote Patricia Hampl, novelist, memoirist, and poet in 2008 in Commonweal.

“The aesthetic appeal of D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir may be attributed to the many surprises its hybrid form delivers. What sets off this little book from so many other narratives about the American post-war history of suburbanization is the complexity of its literary shape. … Holy Land presents a series of fragmented observations formally modeled upon the grid pattern that structures the author’s built environment. Roaming across this grid is a walking participant observer: the narrator, who decentres the Cartesian eye of the cartographer. This laconic narrator plays around in a metonymical manner with an endlessly extendable chain of links, disturbing all attempts at reducing and synthesizing his suburban narrative. In the end, however, neither the act of gridding the text nor the insertion of a walking perspective lend themselves to straightforward allegorical interpretations. We are left with an unpredictable stage for the circulation and mutual transformation of information and affect, which in the final analysis appears to be a textual enactment of the workings of desire." (From "Making the Visible a Little Hard to See: D. J. Waldie’s Aesthetic Challenge to American Urban Studies in Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir," Bart Eeckhout and Lesley Janssen, Universiteit Antwerpen, Anglia, 2014)

"Waldie challenges representations of suburbia as a type of region unworthy of serious, close attention, proving that regionalist study can be critical too, interrogating the local and proximate precisely in order to demonstrate its universality, its connectedness and its differences with the wider world." (From "Cultural poesis, critical regionalism and suburbia," Neil Campbell, Europeam Journal of American Studies, 2012)


D. J. Waldie lives in Lakewood, California, in the house his parents bought in 1946. He was born in 1948. He attended California State University, Long Beach (then a California state college) and the University of California at Irvine, where he was a Regents Intern Fellow in Comparative Literature.

In the mid-1970s, he taught at California State University, Long Beach in the Department of Comparative Literature and the University Honors Program.

Waldie began his career in public administration in Lakewood in December 1977. He served as the city's Public Information Officer between 1981 and 2010. He retired as Deputy City Manager of Lakewood in September 2010.[4]

He has written for the Los Angeles Times, where he is a contributing editor. He was a contributing writer at Los Angeles magazine.

His work as a translator of the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé was included in exhibitions at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the Langson Library at the University of California Irvine,[5] the Clark Humanities Museum at Scripps College and at the Mallarmé centenary symposium held at the City University of New York.

His translation of Mallarmé’s book-length poem Un coup de dés/A Throw of the Dice is in the collections of the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet (Paris), the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), the Museum of Modern Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the special collections of the Princeton, Brown, UCLA, USC, Yale, and Harvard libraries.

In 2004, his essay collection Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The anthology Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (to which he contributed) was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2006 by National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Kansas City Star. California Romantica (for which he wrote the descriptive text) became a Los Angeles Times bestseller in 2007. Blue Sky Metropolis : The Aerospace Century in Southern California (to which he contributed) was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2012 by the Los Angeles Public Library.

He was a member of the delegation of Los Angeles writers and filmmakers invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in the Guadalajara International Book Festival in 2009.

In 2010, his memoir of growing up in suburban Los Angeles County in the 1950s was optioned by James Franco [6] for a film project, which was in post-production in 2015.




  • Stéphane Mallarmé. Poem: A throw of the dice will never abolish chance. Translator D. J. Waldie, Illustrator Gary Young.  Reprinted with an introductory essay, Parnassus Poetry in Review, 2001


  • Sympathy: 5 poems, Greenhouse Review Press, 1977
  • The grain is unlocked. The grain unravels, Greenhouse Review Press, 1977

Contributor To[edit]

  • Writing Los Angeles, Library of America, 2002
  • My California, Angel City Press/California Arts Council, 2004
  • California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century, Heyday Books/California Council for the Humanities, 2004
  • Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, Trinity University Press, 2006
  • The Suburb Reader, Routledge, 2006
  • Cities: Architecture and Society - 10. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura, la Biennale de Venezia, 2006
  • Seeing Los Angeles: A Different Look at a Different City, Otis/Seismicity Editions, 2007
  • An Atlas of Radical Cartography, The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press)
  • The People and Promise of California, Longman, 2008
  • Tell Me True: Memoir, History, and Writing a Life, Borealis Books/Minnesota Historical Society, 2008
  • Blackwell Companion to California, Blackwell, 2008
  • Los Angeles: Eine Stadt im Film, Osterreichischen FilmMuseums, 2008
  • The Lost Origins of the Essay, Graywolf Press, 2009
  • Common Place: The American Motel, Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2010
  • Los Angeles in Maps, Rizzoli, 2010
  • The Classic Homes of Los Angeles, Rizzoli, 2010
  • Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California, Huntington Library/University of California Press, 2012
  • Maynard L. Parker: Modern Photography and the American Dream, Yale University Press, 2012

Film Archival Research[edit]

  • The War from the Air, Nova/PBS, 1975
  • Hitler’s Secret Weapon, Nova/PBS, 1976
  • Will Rogers: America in the ‘20s, Will Rogers Foundation. 1977


  • "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990", 2013, J. Paul Getty Museum (consultant and contributor)
  • "Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940-1990", 2013, Huntington Library (guest curator)
  • "Unbuilt Los Angeles", 2013, A+D Architecture and Design Museum (consultant)
  • "A Windshield Perspective: The Framing of L.A. Architecture and Urbanism", 2013, A+D Architecture and Design Museum (consultant)
  • "California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way", 2012, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (guest lecturer)
  • "A Throw of the Dice: Artists Inspired By a Visual Text", 2003, University of California Irvine (contributor)
  • "Mallarmé at the Millennium", 1999, City University of New York (contributor)


  1. ^ "The Lakewood Story". Lakewood Online. City of Lakewood. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Waldie, D. J. "Beautiful and Terrible". Places Journal. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (July 5, 1996). "Rooted in Suburbia, Body and Soul". New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Robes Meeks, Karen (September 15, 2009). "Lakewood Spokesman Retiring". Long Beach Press Telegram. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Hubert, Renee and Judd (November 2003). A Throw of the Dice: Artists Inspired by a Visual Text (PDF). Irvine, Ca: UC Irvine Libraries. p. 20. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "D. J. Waldie" (Press release). Hotchkiss and Associates. 

External links[edit]