Joyce Carol Oates
(born June 16 1938
) is an American
author and the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities with the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton University
, where she has taught since 1978.
With over 50 novels to her credit as well as volumes of poetry and non-fiction, Oates is widely recognized as one of the leading American novelists to emerge since the 1960s. She served as associate editor for the Ontario Review, a literary magazine, and the Ontario Review Press, a literary book publisher, both of which were edited by her late husband, Raymond J. Smith. The Ontario Review was shuttered after Smith's death.
Oates has also written under the pseudonyms "Rosamond Smith" and "Lauren Kelly."
Background and education
Oates was born in Lockport, New York
, and grew up in the New York countryside. She attended the same one-room school
her mother attended as a child.
Oates often remarks about receiving a copy of Alice in Wonderland when she was a little girl, and how it affected her life very deeply, growing up on a farm with very few books.
Oates began to write stories with the typewriter she received from her grandmother when she was fourteen years old. She excelled in school, and she worked for her high school newspaper, called WISP, at Williamsville High School in Williamsville, New York (now called Williamsville South High School). Oates won a scholarship to attend Syracuse University. She also won the "college short story" contest sponsored by Mademoiselle when she was nineteen years old. After graduating as valedictorian from Syracuse in 1960 (where she was a member of Phi Mu), Oates received her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961.
She is a member of Mensa.
Oates taught at the University of Detroit
, publishing her first novel, With Shuddering Fall,
when she was twenty-six years old. Her novel them
received the National Book Award
in 1970. She then started teaching at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, right across the river from Detroit, from 1968 to 1978. Since then she has published an average of two books a year, many of them novels. Frequent topics in her work include rural poverty, sexual abuse, class tensions, desire for power, female childhood and adolescence, and occasionally the supernatural. Violence is a constant in her work, even leading Oates to have written an essay in response to the question, "Why Is Your Writing So Violent?" She is a fan of poet
and novelist Sylvia Plath
, describing Plath's sole novel The Bell Jar
as a "near perfect work of art"; but though Oates has often been compared to Plath, she disavows Plath's romanticism about suicide and among her characters, she favors cunning, hardy survivors, both women and men. Oates' concern with violence and other traditionally masculine topics has won her the respect of such male authors as Norman Mailer
. She gained much attention for her book-length essay On Boxing
. Oates has also written several books, mostly mystery novels, under the pen names Rosamond Smith
and Lauren Kelly.
She also taught at the University of Windsor
for ten years before moving to Princeton in 1978.
Her frequently anthologized short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?",
(1966), was dedicated to Bob Dylan.
Oates said she wrote the story after listening to Dylan's song, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue".
The story is loosely based on the serial killer Charles Schmid, also known as "The Pied Piper of Tucson".
It was the basis for the film, Smooth Talk, starring Laura Dern.
Oates is a member of the Board of Trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She is frequently cited as a perennial "favorite" to win the Nobel Prize in Literature by oddsmakers and critics.
Her papers, held at Syracuse University, include seventeen unpublished short stories and four unpublished or unfinished novellas. Oates has said that most of her early unpublished work was "cheerfully thrown away."
Oates' husband of forty-five years, Raymond J. Smith, died in February 2008.
Style and themes
From her first novel With Shuddering Fall
in 1964, up to Kindred Passions
in 1987, Oates built up a literary corpus that mixes Gothic estrangement with high social observation. Her works contain the typical elements of this type of tale: unconscious forces, seduction, incest, violence, and rape, sometimes to the point of sensationalism. She has written in a variety of genres, eras and landscapes -thus, she has works settled in a Faulkner
-like Eden County
, an imaginary area of upstate New York; in academia; in the Detroit
slums and the Pennsylvania
backwoods. But her works are not mere renderings of unusual experiences in far away places, both in space and time: novels such as A Bloodsmoor Romance
, The Mysteries of Wintherthurn
and Kindred Passions
contain strong feminist overtones and use of the Gothic device to explore the ambiguities of gender and the sexual bases of fantasy.
In 2001, Oates stated that it was hard to begin tracing her literary influences, because "[t]here are so many." However, she has named several influences for her writing, both the content and her style. In her essay collection The Faith of a Writer
, Oates wrote that a gift of Lewis Carroll
's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
when she was eight was "the great treasure of my childhood, and the most profound literary influence of my life. This was love at first sight! She has also cited the influence of Sylvia Plath
, Henry James
, Henry David Thoreau
, Flannery O'Connor
, Bob Dylan
, and William Faulkner
. In her forays into gothic and horror fiction, Oates said she was "deeply influenced" by Franz Kafka
and feels "a writerly kinship" with James Joyce
Select awards and honors
Novels as "Rosamond Smith"
Novels as "Lauren Kelly"
Short story collections
- Miracle Play (1974)
- Three Plays (1980)
- In Darkest America (1991)
- I Stand Before You Naked (1991)
- Twelve Plays (1991) (including Black)
- The Perfectionist and Other Plays (1995)
- New Plays (1998)
- Dr. Magic: Six One Act Plays (2004)
Essays and criticism
- The Edge of Impossibility: Tragic Forms in Literature (1972)
- The Hostile Sun: The Poetry of D.H. Lawrence (1974)
- New Heaven, New Earth: The Visionary Experience in Literature (1974)
- Contraries: Essays (1981)
- The Profane Art: Essays & Reviews (1983)
- On Boxing (1987)
- (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities (1988)
- George Bellows: American Artist (1995)
- "They Just Went Away" 1995
- Where I've Been, And Where I'm Going: Essays, Reviews, and Prose (1999)
- The Faith of A Writer: Life, Craft, Art (2003)
- Uncensored: Views & (Re)views (2005)
- Women In Love and Other Poems (1968)
- Anonymous Sins & Other Poems (1969)
- Love and Its Derangements (1970)
- Angel Fire (1973)
- The Fabulous Beasts (1975)
- Women Whose Lives Are Food, Men Whose Lives Are Money (1978)
- Invisible Woman: New and Selected Poems, 1970-1982 (1982)
- The Time Traveler (1989)
- Tenderness (1996)
- The Coming Storm (Forthcoming)
Young adult fiction
- "I come from people who did not go to college. They didn't even finish high school. People who one might call ordinary Americans who are very hard-working."
- "I'm drawn to failure. I feel that I'm contending with it constantly in my own life."
- "Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost."
- "The brain is a muscle" from Love and Its Derangements (1970)
- "Revenge is living well, without you."
Websites and reviews:
Interviews and Speeches: