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If you like Joyce Carol Oates's story, you might also like:
Joan Didion,
Rita Dove,
Louise Glück,
Nadine Gordimer,
Khaled Hosseini,
Norman Mailer,
Frank McCourt,
W.S. Merwin,
James Michener,
Carol Shields,
John Updike
and Gore Vidal

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Joyce Carol Oates in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Novel

Joyce Carol Oates's recommended reading: Walden and Civil Disobedience

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Joyce Carol Oates
 
Joyce Carol Oates
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Joyce Carol Oates Interview (page: 4 / 6)

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  Joyce Carol Oates

What was the most exciting moment in your career?

Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
Joyce Carol Oates: Maybe it lies ahead. I'm not sure. My life is a very interior and solitary life. I tend not to care that much about external things. I'm really very happy when my husband and I go running. When I'm in nature, I feel that peace. I'm a very active person. My metabolism seems normal when I'm running, not when I'm sitting. So, my happiest moments in life are likely to be in private or with my husband in nature.

What drew you towards teaching?

Joyce Carol Oates: I always wanted to be a teacher. I admired my teachers in elementary school. I thought it would be a good life, and my parents were very supportive. I got my BA degree from Syracuse University, where I had wonderful teachers. Then I went to the University of Wisconsin to get a Master's degree. I wasn't so interested in the teaching there or so impressed by it. It was much more scholarly and erudite and somewhat dry. But I got my Master's degree in one year, and I didn't do any teaching. I had a fellowship, and I got a job to teach at college level. I had four courses at the University of Detroit. I had never taught before and was amazed that I had been hired to teach four courses without having taught before. That was very nice of these people to hire me.


I came into the classroom, and there were about 40 students. It was a night class. And I had been very excited and really frightened because I had never taught before. And I remember walking in the room, and I came to the podium and I looked out and some of these students were older than I was - I was only about 22. Such a feeling of happiness came over me. I thought, "This is where I belong." Then I started teaching, and I just loved it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


I can't imagine where I got that confidence. If I had been very nervous, I would have been quite comprehensible. What seems surprising to me was that I wasn't really nervous, and that I loved it. And I felt so happy. So I always feel very happy teaching. A wave of happiness comes over me in the classroom.

How could you explain to somebody who knows nothing about your field what makes it so exciting?

Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
Joyce Carol Oates: Writing? The field of writing is filled with tension. Any kind of artistic activity is. It's not, I think, psychologically healthy in some ways. It's very agitating and turbulent. I spoke of teaching, which I find very restful and peaceful and rewarding and invigorating. Teaching is a social activity. Creating out of one's imagination is solitary. And I find that it's fraught with anxiety much of the time. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. I think people who are artists will be artists. And some of them will have tremendous psychological strain. I can't look in the mirror and say to myself that it will be worth the ordeal. Because we don't really know till we're all finished whether the ordeal was worth it.

For you, is the teaching kind of a balance to the writing? A balance between extroversion and introversion?

Joyce Carol Oates: That may be. I do like writing., it's just that I feel it isn't very easy. I don't have children, but if I had a child who went into a creative field I would be worried.

How do you deal with criticism?

Joyce Carol Oates: I don't know. I've been writing since 1963. I've gotten a lot of criticism.


Most people don't get criticism. They don't know what others are saying about them behind their backs. Politicians, film makers, actors, people on television, writers -- anyone in the public eye gets a lot of criticism. And much of it is somewhat ill-spirited, or it's mean. So how can one divide the spiteful criticism from what might be a constructive criticism? Many writers don't read the critics, and I sometimes don't read criticism. Even if it's a good review. I may get a stack of reviews and some of them are maybe wonderful. I find that I may not read them right at the moment because they're very distracting.


Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
I'm sort of enthralled with what I'm working on, caught up in this activity that I'm trying to wrestle with. And sometimes I'm given a literary award in the midst of a crisis of writing. And I feel that I don't deserve the award. There's a profound irony. People are saying nice things about me, but I know that back home I'm having such a problem that I don't feel I deserve the award. I have to be very careful what I say. I'm polite and discreet, and I sort of go along with this ceremony. Ultimately, we measure ourselves against our own ideas of idealism and perfection, and we don't always come very close to them.

Have you ever been truly afraid? Afraid that something was going to throw you irreparably?

Joyce Carol Oates: Well, there's psychological fear and physical fear. I've had some physical frights, but I've probably never had a panic reaction in my whole life. I'm sure I will some day. I've been on airplanes in very turbulent weather and sometimes had to turn around and go back to the airport. I should have felt some panic then, but I felt a kind of resignation which doesn't seem very normal somehow. I'm sure that under the right circumstances I feel a lot of panic and adrenaline.

Fear of another nature is more intellectual. I know there are abysses that lie ahead. Maybe I've had fearful episodes and I've denied them. The human mind can't bear much reality, so we're often in a state of denial and amnesia about things that we've experienced. I tend to be very hard on myself and very self-critical so I'm not sure if I can really credit that.

Is it possible that you've worked out some of your fear through your writing?

Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
Joyce Carol Oates: It's possible I've worked out some of my fears through my writing. That's why some people identify with it. There's a web page devoted to my work. I have nothing to do with it, but I was looking at it, and the discussion group focused on how these readers thought that I could inhabit other characters very convincingly and that I could write about states of violence and anxiety and fear and terror. They thought that was very realistic. So it's possible that I am doing that.

In a sense, I may not consciously know what I'm doing. I feel that I'm telling a story. I'm a kind of medium by which something is transmitted. I choose my language very carefully, and I'm a formalist. Something that's out there may be considered a reality, but it's inchoate and unorganized. Bricks and mortar and stone have no voice. A writer or an artists brings to these materials some sort of voice and then becomes obedient. And then it becomes a work of art. It could be a movie. It could be some music or a novel. People read that, or they see the movie, and they respond emotionally, even though the person who made the film may have been pretty cold and calculating. Yet there's a reality, and it's legitimate. Filmmaking, particularly, is a medium of such collaboration and technique. So many people go into it, and then someone edits it.

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This page last revised on May 16, 2012 20:53 EST
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