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||Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938) - pseudonyms: Lauren Kelly, Rosamond Smith|
Prolific American novelist, short-story writer, poet, critic and dramatist, who has explored in her works disappointments in love, women's roles, sexual passion, racial tensions, and violence in contemporary American society. Oates has been mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her bengal cat is called Cleopatra.
"I did not learn to read until I was in the first grade, and six years old, though by this time I had already produced numerous "books" of a kind of drawing, coloring, and scribbling in tablets, in what I believed to be a convincing imitation of adults. My earliest fictional characters were zestfully if crudely drawn, upright chickens and cats engaged in various dramatic confrontations; the title of my first full half-length novel, on tablet paper, was The Cat House." (from The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, 2003)
Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938 in Millersport, N.Y, into a bluecollar Catholic family. Her father, Frederic James Oates, was a tool-and-die designer at the Harrison Radiator Company. Erie County, where Oates grew up at her grandparents' farm, became later the fictitious 'Eden County', the scene of many of her novels. Both of her parents, Fredric and Carolina, were devoted readers. From first through fifth grades, she attended the same single-room schoolhouse her mother had attended twenty years before.
When Oates was fourteen she was given a typewriter by her grandmother. At the age of fifteen, she submitted her first novel to a publisher. It was rejected as too depressing for young readers. After attending junior and senior high school in Lockport, N.Y., Oates studied English at Syracuse University from 1956 to 1961. During this period, she wrote a novel each term. In 1961 she received her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin. In the same year she married Raymond J. Smith, a fellow English student, and moved with him to Beaumont, Texas, where he had a teaching post. He died of pneumonia in 2008; it took over two years before she was able to channel her energy into writing. Her grief and loneliness Oates described in A Widow's Story (2011). "When you are not alone, you are shielded. You are shielded from the stark implacable unspeakable indescribable terror or aloneness. You are shielded from the knowledge of your own insignificance, your trash-soul." In 2009 Oates married Professor Charles Gross; he died in April 2019.
Between 1962 and 1967 Oates worked as a professor of English at the University of Detroit, the setting for several of her works. She taught then English at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, where she founded with her husband the Ontario Review in 1974.
In 1978 Oates moved to New Jersey and became a teacher at
Princeton University. Her first book, By the North Gate (1963),
a collection of stories, Oates wrote as she completed her B.A. at
Syracuse University, where she also won the prestigious Mademoiselle
fiction contest. Upon the Sweeping Flood (1966) brought her
national attention and she was compared to William Faulkner and
Flannery O'Connor. The Wheel of Love (1970) contains the often
anthologized short stories 'Where are You Going, Where have You Been'
and 'The Region of Ice'. The novel My Life as a Rat (2019) was developed from a short story titled 'Curly Red,' which had originally appeared in Harper's magazine in 2003.
Oates has also published non-fiction, essays
and criticism, in several volumes. An enormously productive author, by
2007 her oeuvre
consisted of 52 novels, 29 collections of short stories, 11 collections
of essays, 7 children's books and 8 collections of poetry and plays.
Oates lives an ordered life. "People think that I write quickly, but I
actually don’t," she has said. She gets up early, works at her desk
day from 8 a.m. till 1:30 or 2 p.m., and then again in the evening for
two or three hours.
Among her many awards is the 1970 National Book Award for them
the last part of a trilogy. In 2004 Oates received the Fairfax Prize
for Lifetime Achievement in the Literary Arts. Her later novels include
Blonde (2000), an international bestseller about Marilyn
which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a National Book Award finalist.
Daddy Love (2013) is a
dark story of child abduction, narrated from different perspectives.
"Oates is a mind-reader who writes psychological horror stories about
seriously disturbed minds, and it’s hard to tear your eyes away from
her grimly detailed portrait of Daddy Love." (Marilyn
Stasio, in The New York Times,
January 4, 2013)
Sexual violence is a central theme in Oates's work. Rape: A Love Story (2003) starts in the aftermath a gang-rape; often her female characters are abused and tormented by men in various ways. When once asked why her writing is so violent, Oates remarked that the question is always sexist. "The serious writer, after all, bears witness." Oates seldom gives interviews while traveling on lecture tours.
Oates has written in several literary forms. She has also attempted to update the supernatural fiction and the Gothic genre. In 1996 she received the Bram Stoker Award for the novel Zombie (1995), a serial-killer horror story. Under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith, she has written mystery fiction. The pseudonym was a feminization of the name of Oates's husband. Wonderland from 1971 was built around Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. As a boxing fan, she published in 1987 a collection of essays entitled On Boxing.
Oates was one of the writers, who joined a
protest against the PEN American Center in 2015 after the
organization decided to honour the French magazine Charlie Hebdo
with an award. 12 people were killed in January 2015 in a terrorist
attack on the magazine in Paris. Charlie
been long known for its satirical cartoons on Islam and other
religions, celebrities and political leaders. Oates said that "PEN
honors & defends 'freedom of expression' but not all 'expression' –
it is selective. Not antisemitic, for instance. Seems reasonable."
Oates received the Jerusalem Prize in 2019. She said in her acceptance
speech: 'In a world in which individual freedoms are under assault, the
autonomy of the individual and the role of art in our lives is of great
For further reading: The Tragic Vision of Joyce Carol Oates by M. Grant (1978); Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates by Linda Wagner-Martin (1979); Joyce Carol Oates, ed. by Harold Bloom (1987); Understanding Joyce Carol Oates by Greg Johnson (1987); Conversations with Joyce Carol Oates by Lee Milazzo (1989); 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?': Joyce Carol Oates, ed. by Elaine Showalter (1994); Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates by B. Daly (1996); Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates, by Greg Johnson (1998); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Joyce Carol Oates: Conversations, ed. by Greg Johnson (2006); Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists, edited by Michael Lackey (2014)