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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates


I was unimpressed as she thanked her interviewer for the lovely introduction. Her demeanor timid and reserved, her voice soft. She was clad in an easy to wear, no fuss black suit. The same one worn by the program organizer and her cohort on stage. This was the award winning author, Joyce Carol Oates? I had made the effort on a day off of work to go downtown to hear the writer described as provocative, insightful, chilling, and first impressions screamed mediocre.

Joyce Carol Oates started the program by reading one of her short stories. No special intonations or sound effects. She was subdued, but I was soon captivated. The words alone were telling a story that didn't permit distraction. The setting came alive. The main character's inner most thoughts were revealed as worries about her housekeeping ran parallel to her worries about the two drug high intruders holding a knife and inquiring about a young daughter one flight up.

True to her chroniclers, Joyce Carol Oates is a talented storyteller. After reading the short story, the author answered questions with stories. Detailed vignettes about the influence of family, about her life, her interest in true crime and her desire to write outside the literary genre.

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer and a professor of creative writing at Princeton. Novels, essays, poetry, nonfiction, young adult books created over many decades. With an oeuvre like hers, she doesn't need to impress with a dramatic voice or be concerned about what she wears.

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5 comments:

Joel said...

I read a story written by Ms. Oates in college (the apparently frequently anthologized "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?") and I remember being chilled by the frank reality of the threat of violence. It stood out from the rest of the stories in that textbook and stuck in my head for a long while after that class was over. I've enjoyed stories in her Haunted collection and plan to read more of her work in the future. Excellent post, Cathy!

Jo said...

Many wonder when she's going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It seems like she's on the short-list in perpetuity. Thanks for the post.

Laura A. said...

I enjoyed her novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," is absolutely a story that sticks, as Joel said. I've found some of her other stories less memorable, though.

Thanks for sharing your Oates encounter.

Anonymous said...

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl is my favorite of hers. Its remarkable how she gets inside the head of teenagers. And hearing an author read her own words is kind of thrilling, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

She's not much in person, but I've enjoyed several of her novels, including The Falls.

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