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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
 
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Joyce Carol Oates Interview (page: 6 / 6)

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  Joyce Carol Oates

Beside your very early attempts at writing and observation, what else in your youth prepared you for your career?

Joyce Carol Oates: My whole life. Much of what was absorbed unconsciously, in a kind of osmotic way, from the people around me, has led to the shaping of my writing.


I come from people who did not go to college. They didn't even finish high school. People who one might call ordinary Americans who are very hardworking. Who were not self conscious and were not thinking about themselves very much. I observed their lives. Some of their lives were quite difficult. There was a certain measure of violence in my world. I'm not from a middle class world. I'm from another kind of world. And I absorbed things without being conscious of them.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


For instance,


I was taken to boxing matches by my father when I was quite young, probably around ten years old. And so I inhabited, as a spectator, a very masculine world in which there were not very many women. I watched men fight, and boys fight, in a way that must have seemed to me paradigmatic of the world, though I didn't have that vocabulary. I didn't have a feminist position, and I wasn't saying, "Well, this is brutal and this is ugly and this is cruel." I was just looking at it with open eyes and thinking, "This is the way the world is."


This has all been internalized. I see the world in ways that might be considered somewhat harsh and Darwinistic. At the same time mediated, as in Darwin, by a real idealism and an excitement about the possibilities of the intellect and imagination to deal with this somewhat brutal world.

Have you ever turned down an opportunity because you felt it just wasn't right for you?

Joyce Carol Oates: I've turn down opportunities constantly.


I turn down invitations to do things for money. I have almost no interest in making money. Actually, I've acquired a fair amount of money that I will never live to spend. It's been earmarked for various charities and worthwhile places. So earning money, in a way, depresses me, because I feel it's just piling up. And there's just something melancholy about the image of money piling up that will never be drawn upon. I think what distresses me most in my life is that I have so many ideas I consider exciting ideas that I will never live to execute because it takes me so long to execute.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


If a student came up to you and said, "I'm determined to be a writer," what advice would you give him or her?

Joyce Carol Oates: I work with young people at Princeton University. I've been teaching there since 1978, and...


I always tell my students the same thing. And that's to live life, and to read very voraciously without any definite program. To travel, to meet people, to talk to people, to listen very carefully, and not interrupt, but listen to their own grandparents speak of their families. Because older people in our families have so much to tell, and you just have to sort of inspire them and they start telling you. So to be very curious, and to take a kind of neutral position and not to be judgmental, just kind of open. You know, look at the world and see what's there. It's very beautiful. It's a very exciting but in some ways treacherous world, and all this goes into the writing.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Was there ever a time when you felt alienated from the environment of your youth, and felt that you had to disassociate yourself from it?

Joyce Carol Oates: Was there ever a time when I felt alienated from my youth or from any environment in which I found myself? I would say yes.


There was always a certain doubleness. I liked people very much and wanted to be liked by them, I think. At the same time, there was a doubleness and a sense of criticism and a sense of wanting to be elsewhere to gain a perspective. A sense of personality that disassociates itself from the immediate, and is asking questions like, "Why am I here? Who is this person? What am I doing? What is the purpose of this? Is this folly?" These questions are sort of always going through my mind.


I have a very philosophical imagination. I studied philosophy in college, so basic philosophical questions are always scrolling through my mind like, "Why am I doing this? What is the value of this? What is the purpose of this?" These questions are very hard to answer.

Well, thank you so much for trying to answer our questions. It's been fascinating.

Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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