John Updike described the career of Joyce Carol Oates better than anyone when he said, ". . . if the phrase 'woman of letters' existed, she would be . . . entitled to it." She's written novels, short story collections, nonfiction, novellas, plays, poetry, collections, children's and young adult books, and been awarded too many honors to mention.
An author, poet, avid Twitter user, and teacher, her work as a writer has spanned a remarkable five decades.
Oates will be reading from her latest collection of stories, Lovely, Dark, Deep, at the Miami Book Fair International on Thursday night, so we quizzed the legendary author via email about Twitter, her writing routine, and the details of her memoir.
New Times: What does a day in the life of Joyce Carol Oates look like, as far as your writing process?
Joyce Carol Oates: I usually begin writing as early as I can, perhaps around 7:30 a.m. (especially when my husband is away traveling and the household is very quiet!). If I am not teaching in the afternoon I will continue working more or less all day -- but without any sense of obligation, or any sort of deadline. "Writing" is so incorporated into my life, it is not -- almost -- very different from breathing or dreaming in some way conjoined with language.
What are some of the moments/scenes that stand out to you from the stories of Lovely, Dark, Deep?
"Mastiff" is based partly on an actual experience when my husband Charlie Gross and I were hiking on Wild Cat Canyon trail above Berkeley. Fortunately, it is just "partly' based on this memorable (to me) hike.
My favorite moment is the tender ending of "Patricide" -- which I did not see coming at the very outset, but which came to seem inevitable, as the novella progresses.
After all these years, is there anything that still surprises you as a writer? As a teacher?
I'm sure that I will be surprised later today, when I teach at Princeton. Students often write truly unpredictable stories...
You've really embraced Twitter. How do you see it as a creative outlet in contrast to your writing work?
Twitter is, for me, a kind of poetry; aphorisms; radically distilled essays and reviews. You need not "review" a book or a film at great length if you can somehow adequately translate the experience of it in miniature.
Can you tell us a little bit about the upcoming The Lost Landscape: A Writer's Memoir?
This memoir is primarily about my childhood, my adolescence, my young adulthood in the context of my family, who lived on a small, not-prosperous fruit farm in upstate New York. I miss them all so very much, and the farm as well. Memoirs are (perhaps) generated by a wish to assuage homesickness. In the margins, so to speak, I try to recall how I'd "become a writer"....how quasi-conscious this was, as if incidental.
What do you have planned for your talk at the Miami Book Fair International?
I will talk about the stories in Lovely, Dark, Deep -- which are strategically arranged -- and read from one or two, just briefly. I always look forward to questions from the Miami Book Fair audience which is a very special audience.
Oates will appear at the Miami Book Fair International on Thursday, November 20, at 8 p.m. in the Chapman Conference Center. Tickets for her talk are $15 each via miamibookfair.com.
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