When she transferred to the high school in Lockport, she quickly distinguished herself. An excellent student, she contributed to her high school newspaper and won a scholarship to attend Syracuse University, where she majored in English. When she was only 19, she won the "college short story" contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine. Joyce Carol Oates was valedictorian of her graduating class. After receiving her BA degree, she earned her Master's in a single year at the University of Wisconsin. While studying in Wisconsin she met Raymond Smith. The two were married after a three-month courtship.
In 1968, Joyce took a job at the University of Windsor, and the couple moved across the Detroit River to Windsor, in the Canadian province of Ontario. In the ten years that followed, Joyce Carol Oates published new books at the extraordinary rate of two or three per year, while teaching full-time. Many of her novels sold well; her short stories and critical essays solidified her reputation. Despite some critical grumbling about her phenomenal productivity, Oates had become one of the most respected and honored writers in the United States though only in her thirties.
While still in Canada, Oates and her husband started a small press and began to publish a literary magazine, The Ontario Review. They continued these activities after 1978, when they moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Since 1978, Joyce Carol Oates has taught in the creative writing program at Princeton University, where she has mentored numerous young writers, including Jonathan Safran Foer. Her literary work continued unabated.
As of this writing, Joyce Carol Oates has written 56 novels, over 30 collections of short stories, eight volumes of poetry, plays, innumerable essays and book reviews, as well as longer nonfiction works on literary subjects ranging from the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the fiction of Dostoyevsky and James Joyce, to studies of the gothic and horror genres, and on such non-literary subjects as the painter George Bellows and the boxer Mike Tyson. In 1996, Oates received the PEN/Malamud Award for "a lifetime of literary achievement."
Her husband, Raymond Smith, died in 2008, shortly before the publication of her 32nd collection of short stories, Dear Husband. The following year, Oates married Professor Charles Gross, of the Psychology Department and Neuroscience Institute at Princeton. In the months following Raymond Smith's death, and before she met Dr. Gross, she suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She described this experience vividly in the memoir, A Widow's Tale, published in 2011. Today, Joyce Carol Oates continues to live and write in Princeton, New Jersey, where she is Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.