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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: 5 / 6)

National Book Award

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  Joyce Carol Oates

What do you see as your next challenge?

Joyce Carol Oates: That's hard to answer because I'm working on a novel at the moment. Each novel is a challenge.

What does the American Dream mean to you?

Joyce Carol Oates: The American dream to me is very metaphorical. I think of it in historical terms, going back to the Puritans.


To the Puritans who came from England, America was a land of complete newness. And they were going to establish God's colony in the wilderness. And so the dream of the America was a religious dream, basically. America is a very religious nation. Not a mono-religious nation because there are many different strands of belief, but there's something about this nation that inspires people, or perhaps draws people, who are strongly idealistic. And even though they may be multimillionaires, ultimately, and they may be capitalists and very pragmatic and materialist in their methods, yet they seem to be stimulated by idealism. And they seem to carry with them these seeds of religion.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream


In the major industrialized nations of the world, particularly the European nations, it's most unusual to have a high degree of religious participation among the citizens. The United States is very different from European nations. Their civilization is older than ours, but it's also been contaminated by history. We had the Civil War, which was very terrible, but it's not quite like World War I and World War II and the devastation of wars in Europe in such a small space.

Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
We seem to be different in that we still have this capacity for belief and idealism, but at the same time, we're very pragmatic. We're a very physical nation. We have crime rates that are unbelievable to the civilized nations of Europe. Everyone in this country could have a gun. There are so many firearms in this country. This is astonishing, let's say, to Sweden or to England. They can't believe we're living in something like the Wild West.

All these things go together in a strange way. So the American dream is a multi-metaphor made up of distinct regions. Many regions of this country are almost like different countries. Even in one state, northern and southern California are like two separate countries. In Europe, they would be two countries perhaps. So the American dream is very diverse and, in a way, mysterious. Perhaps it will come to its fruition in the 21st century.

Do you recognize that characteristic American idealism in yourself?

Joyce Carol Oates: Well, I'm not a very pragmatic or materialist person, so I guess I'm idealistic. I'm very American in the sense of being an explorer. America is filled with people who are interested in exploring landscapes, either external or internal. A westward nation of explorers.

What are the books that have inspired you the most as an adult?

Joyce Carol Oates: As an adult, there's one book I keep coming back to very often. It's on a shelf right by my desk, and that's The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. Some of her poems are very short. Some are only four lines long, even two lines long. But she has written so many profound poems that I find I can just open the book and read and reread and be carried into another sensibility. I would almost rank Emily Dickinson with Shakespeare. Shakespeare does something very different, of course. His whole agenda is very different. But Emily Dickinson is the great poet of inwardness and spirituality. And I'd mention Shakespeare. Of course, I go back to Shakespeare quite frequently.

What about movies? You mentioned before that you felt some of them really came.

Joyce Carol Oates: The moviemaking art is fascinating. Many of my students are convinced they want to write and direct their own films. I don't discourage them. I think they have to go off to California and find their own destiny somehow, but, I think that making a movie would be very, very difficult and laborious.


I used to know Martin Scorsese, whose work I admire very much. He talked of spending six months editing, working twelve hours a day, in the dark, in a dark room, in a kind of basement situation. Very, very hardworking. No glamour. It's painstaking work to edit. And he creates a movie that people see in the theater, and they have visceral reactions. And they feel it's glamorous and exciting. And I think that's the quintessence of the artistic enterprise.


We work on things painstakingly and fastidiously. We have all sorts of emotions like despair, frustration, dissatisfaction. Once in a while, we're satisfied for five minutes. Anyway, this product comes out, and then people react to it in ways we can't even anticipate. They think it's glamorous. There's something glamorous about movies? Well, excuse me! Or something glamorous about the theater? I'm involved in the theater, and the only glamour and romance in these fields is in the audience. The audience will feel that thrill of something glamorous.

Joyce Carol Oates Interview Photo
But actors whom I know, directors, playwrights, those people are working. When an actor's out in public, the actor tends to be working, and is looking forward to going home and relaxing, maybe watching something on television. The glamour is the illusion.

I remember seeing a movie when I was quite young. It was Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. That was probably the first meritorious film that I had seen. I was able to see that it was rather like a novel. And I was able to see that it had superior acting, though I was quite young. I had seen many movies, but most of them were just Hollywood concoctions.

On the Waterfront though, which has held up over many decades, was truly a work of art. Remarkably made, with a very sound screenplay by Budd Schulberg -- very literary, very intelligent. And Marlon Brando acted in it so brilliantly. That was the first film that truck me as being on a level with a literary work. Before that, I had only seen movies as entertaining.

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