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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Joyce Carol Oates: Life Full of Achievements


Novelist, teacher and publisher. Joyce Carol Oates has written 56 novels, over 30 collections of short stories, eight volumes of poetry, plays, essays and book reviews, as well as longer nonfiction works on literary subjects ranging from the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the fiction of Dostoyevsky and James Joyce, to studies of the gothic and horror genres, and on such non-literary subjects as the painter George Bellows and the boxer Mike Tyson. She has also been a lecturer on various universities and still teaches creative writing at University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University, New York University, and Princeton University. She has also written suspense novels under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.




Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1938 in Lockport, New York. The oldest of three siblings. She grew up on her parents' farm, outside the town, and went to the same one-room schoolhouse her mother had attended. Although her parents had little education, they encouraged her ambitions. She was the first in a family to graduate from highschool. When, at age 14, her grandmother gave her her first typewriter, she began consciously preparing herself, "writing novel after novel" throughout high school and college.





She has also other memories connected to her grandmother and books:

¨I am being taken by my grandmother Blanche Woodside—my hand in hers—to the Lockport Public Library on East Avenue, Lockport. I am an eager child of 7 or 8 and this is in the mid-1940s. The library is a beautiful building like no other I’ve seen close up, an anomaly in this city block beside the dull red brick of the YMCA to one side and a dentist’s office to the other; across the street is Lockport High School, another older, dull-brick building.





The library for grown-ups is upstairs, beyond a dauntingly wide and high-ceilinged doorway; the library for children is more accessible, downstairs and to the right. Inside this cheery, brightly lit space there is an inexpressible smell of floor polish, library paste, books—that particular library smell that conflates, in my memory, with the classroom smell of floor polish, chalk dust, books so deeply imprinted in my memory. For even as a young child I was a lover of books and of the spaces in which, as indeed in a sacred temple, books might safely reside.

What is most striking in the children’s library are the shelves and shelves of books—bookcases lining the walls—books with brightly colored spines—astonishing to a little girl whose family lives in a farmhouse in the country where books are almost wholly unknown. That these books are available for children—for a child like me—all these books!—leaves me dazed, dazzled.

The special surprise of this memorable day is that my grandmother has arranged for me to be given a library card, so that I can “withdraw” books from this library—though I’m not a resident of Lockport, nor even of Niagara County. Since my grandmother is a resident, some magical provision has been made to include me.

And she continues:

As a farm girl, even when I was quite young I had my “farm chores”—but I had time also to be alone, to explore the fields, woods and creek side. And to read.

There was no greater happiness for me than to read—children’s books at first, then “young adult”—and beyond. No greater happiness than to make my way along the seemingly infinite shelves of books in the Lockport Public Library, drawing my forefinger across the spines. My grandmother was an avid reader whom all the librarians knew well, and whom they obviously liked very much; two or even three times a week she checked books out of the library—novels, biographies. I remember once asking Grandma about a book she was reading, a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and how she answered me: this was the first conversation of my life that concerned a book, and “the life of the mind”—and now, such subjects have become my life.¨





At the high school in Lockport, she was an excellent student, contributing to her high school newspaper and won a scholarship to attend Syracuse University, where she graduated with a degree in English in 1960. When she was only 19, she won the "college short story" contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine.




After receiving her BA degree, she earned her Master's in a single year at the University of Wisconsin. While studying in Wisconsin she met Raymond Smith. The two were married after a three-month courtship. Oates was married for 47 years to Raymond J Smith. He was a professor and editor of the Ontario Review, which he and Oates founded together in 1974. After he died in 2008 from complications arising from pneumonia, Oates detailed her grief in an acclaimed memoir, A Widow’s Story. Ontario Review ceased publication at that time.







In 1962, the couple settled in Detroit, Michigan. Joyce taught at the University of Detroit. The racial tensions and subsequent violence on the streets of Detroit in that period, inspired much of her early fiction. Though she started a Ph.D. program, Oates eventually dropped out to invest her time into writing. Her first book, a collection of short stories, By the North Gate, was published in 1963, and a year later, her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, was published. She was 28. Her other novel them, a layered chronicling of urban life received the National Book Award in 1969.







In 1968, Joyce took a job at the University of Windsor, and the couple moved across the Detroit River to Windsor, in the Canadian province of Ontario. In the ten years that followed, Joyce Carol Oates published new books at the extraordinary rate of two or three per year, while teaching full-time. Many of her novels sold well; her short stories and critical essays solidified her reputation. Despite some critical grumbling about her phenomenal productivity, Oates had become one of the most respected and honored writers in the United States though only in her thirties.


Her productivity has been legendary, almost from the start. When her former Syracuse University classmate Robert Phillips interviewed Oates for the Paris Review in 1978, he recounted a rumor that circulated campus about how she would finish a novel, turn it over, and begin composing another one on the other side–only to throw the manuscript away when both sides were covered and begin again. Oates didn’t deny the rumor. “I began writing in high school,” she said, “consciously training myself by writing novel after novel and always throwing them out when I completed them.” But sheer volume was never the point, as Oates told Phillips:

Productivity is a relative matter. And it’s really insignificant: What is ultimately important is a writer’s strongest books. It may be the case that we all must write many books in order to achieve a few lasting ones — just as a young writer or poet might have to write hundreds of poems before writing his first significant one. Each book as it is written, however, is a completely absorbing experience, and feels always as if it were the work I was born to write.





While still in Canada, Oates and her husband started a small press and began to publish a literary magazine,The Ontario Review, a journal committed to uniting art in the U.S. and Canada. The couple also started a publishing press called Ontario Review Books. They continued these activities after 1978, when they moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Since 1978, Joyce Carol Oates has taught in the creative writing program at Princeton University, where she has mentored numerous young writers, including Jonathan Safran Foer.


In the early 1980s, Oates surprised critics and readers with a series of novels, beginning with Bellefluer, in which she reinvented the conventions of Gothic fiction, using them to re-imagine whole stretches of American history. Just as suddenly, she returned, at the end of the decade, to her familiar realistic ground with a series of ambitious family chronicles, including You Must Remember This, and Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart. The novels Solstice and Marya: A Life also date from this period, and use the materials of her family and childhood to create moving studies of the female experience.




In 1996, Oates received the PEN/Malamud Award for "a lifetime of literary achievement." Oates has since won several other awards, like O. Henry awards, and even the Pulitzer Prize. Most recently, her short story collection Black Dahlia & White Rose was the recipient of the 2013 Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection.


As I have mentioned, her husband, Raymond Smith, died in 2008, shortly before the publication of her 32nd collection of short stories, Dear Husband.

The following year she met and married Charlie Gross, a neuroscientist of the Psychology Department and Neuroscience Institute at Princeton. Before she met Dr. Gross, she suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She described this experience vividly in the memoir, A Widow's Tale, published in 2011 Gross has been a particularly enthusiastic reader of that novel, which has come about, she says, directly as a consequence of writing A Widow’s Story and having to deal so rigorously with her own memory.





Oates prefers to write by hand rather than on the computer, and she makes sure to write eight hours every single day. (This might account for her extended list of publications!) She also claims to receive much of her inspiration while running.

She usually works on several projects at once, but it was only after she’d finished the memoir that she was able to return to writing novels and stories. “Writing fiction is hard to do when real life seems so much more important,” she explains.




Asked her advice for aspiring writers, Oates replied: "To be as invisible as possible so that you can experience life." She assigned a 1982 collection of poems the title Invisible Woman, and she is fond of quoting Flaubert's injunction against personal flamboyance: "Live like the bourgeois, so you can be wild in your imagination." The challenge for anyone presuming to biographize Oates is to remove the bourgeois mask and find the feral face beneath. Oates has made a life—and even a living, though she rarely cracks the best-seller lists—out of her writing. The texts are so voluminous that the author seems to have vanished into their margins.



Today, Joyce Carol Oates continues to live and write in Princeton, New Jersey, where she is Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Since 2012 Oates is extremely active on Twitter, and has attracted almost 150,000 followers, a surprisingly high number for a serious literary writer in her seventies. She says that one of the great strengths of Twitter is that it can draw attention to individual victims in ways that wouldn’t be possible with traditional media.

The New York Times, for instance, would not be able to write about all these cases,” she says. “The whole newspaper would be filled with it. So I think that online—and particularly Twitter—is good at revealing these things to people who didn’t know anything about it.”

But Oates increasingly sees a downside to social media. She thinks the Internet is partly to blame for the extreme polarization of American politics and the growing rift between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.