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Author Study: Joyce Carol Oates Curated by Isabel Cheng '18

The life, work, and analysis of Joyce Carol Oates

Born: June 16, 1938 in Lockport, New York, United States

Education: Syracuse University, B.A. in English, Valedictorian // University of Wisconsin, M.A. in English

Notable Works: We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" 

Awards: National Book Award, 2 O'Henry Awards, 5 time finalist for Pulitzer Prize, F. Scott Fitzgerald Award

Notable Literary Influences: Franz Kafka, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Henry David Thoreau, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Flannery O'Connor

Spouses: Raymond Joseph Smith (1961-2008); Charles Gross (2009-present)

Pseudonyms: Rosamond Smith; Lauren Kelly

Personal Life

I personally chose to study Joyce Carol Oates because I wanted to study an author I hadn’t heard about before. When I was looking through lists of authors, Joyce Carol Oates stood out to me because I saw that she had such an extensive list of books to choose from and that her novels often address the moral state of America’s society. The book that stood out to me the most was Blonde, a fictional retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life, and once I started I couldn’t put the book down. I hope you enjoy learning about Oates just as much as I did!

Joyce Carol Oates' grandmother gifted her Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at a young age, and she considers this to be "the great[est] treasure of [her] childhood." She began writing at age 14 and became the first in her family to complete a high school education and later became valedictorian at Syracuse University. When Oates was 15 she submitted her first manuscript, a 250 page novel about a rehabilitated drug addict, but was rejected for being too bleak for the youth market. At Syracuse, Oates was terrified when she was named valedictorian because she didn't want to give a speech. When she asked how to get out of it, she was told only if it started raining, which has never happened before in the history of all of Syracuse's commencements. On the day of the ceremony, the day started out sunny but as graduates filled into the field, it began to drizzle and Oates was exempt from delivering her speech. Besides from being one of America's most prolific authors, Oates has also founded a literary magazine The Ontario Review, a publishing house Ontario Review Books, and has taught in several universities, including Princeton. 

Oates is also an avid runner during her free time, and often uses this time to brainstorm for her novels. 

“I am concerned with only one thing: the moral and social conditions of my generation.”