Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific and well-known of contemporary writers, visited Bloomington on Monday, and a dozen other students and I had the great pleasure and privilege of sitting in on an intimate question and answer session with her. Later that evening, I also heard her read excerpts from her short story "EDickinsonRepliLuxe," which follows a couple's adoption of an android replica of Emily Dickinson. The story comes from a collection titled Wild Nights: Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway.
I'll paraphrase a few of my favorite moments from the day:
1) Oates cannot begin writing a novel until she has three things: the title, the first line, and the last line. once these three form a triangle in her mind, and she can begin filling in the rest.
2) She observed that professors can no longer assign long, sprawling novels to their students anymore. Instead, everyone reads Heart of Darkness or The Great Gatsby, but the bible-thick novels of George Eliot, for instance, are neglected. She went on to admit that people don't read long books like they used to because there is so much else to do, such as the internet or texting. In the nineteenth century, people could read all day, because there was simply nothing else to do. Then she said (and I paraphrase): "If you were gay back then, you couldn't come out, and if you were heterosexual, you couldn't really come out either, so you just read really long books."
3) While she admitted that her stories often circle around themes of "love and violence," she hardly ever intends for that to happen, and moreover, people only question or criticize her use of violence because she is a woman. People rarely ask male writers about the violence in their work.