Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde (a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls (winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger) and The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature and The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her recent novels include Little Bird of Heaven, Dear Husband, A Fair Maiden, and Mudwoman.

From her Q & A with Tim Adams for the Observer:

Your new novel, Mudwoman, is about a woman, abandoned on a rubbish tip as a young child, who goes on to become president of an Ivy League university. It has a kind of mythic, subconscious quality; is that how you see it?

Unusually, it did come that way. I was at the Edinburgh festival some years ago and one night I had this dream about a woman who had put way too much make-up on her face and it had dried and cracked and she made a spectacle, a fool of herself. She seemed to be someone at a university with an exalted rank. When I woke up the image seemed quite profound to me. I wrote five or 10 pages very excitedly. I always wanted to go back to find out who the woman was.

One of the themes of the book is that however far we travel, we don't escape our past. Do you have a sense of that yourself?

I do. I grew up in a place not dissimilar from the character in the novel, except that I didn't have her murderous mother. It was a place very different from the one where I live now, which is Princeton, New Jersey. To me the disparity remains a source of wonderment. I think anyone who has made a great leap of class, as many of my generation did, feels something of a yearning for the place and family they came from.

Do you think the need to write is born in those big shifts, the insecurity they bring?

I think all art comes out of conflict. When I write I am always looking for...[read on]
Learn about the book that changed Joyce Carol Oates's life.

--Marshal Zeringue