(Oates, Joyce Carol)

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Joyce Carol Oates (1938-)

Teacher, Scholar, Novelist, Story Writer, Poet, Essayist, Literary Critic, Playwright.
Born 1938. Active 1963- in USA, North America

Article contributed by

Martin Kich, Wright State University


Joyce Carol Oates is one of the pre-eminent writers of her generation. She has been honored with a long list of prestigious awards for individual novels and short stories and for career achievements in both genres. Over a long and incredibly productive career, she has maintained a consistently high level of craftsmanship. She received a National Book Award for her fourth novel, them, and was named a finalist for a National Book Award for her twenty-ninth novel, Blonde. In between, her novels Black Water (1992) and What I Lived For (1994) were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her short stories have been included in almost every annual issue of Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards for the past four decades.

Since her first collection of stories was published in 1963, Oates has produced 32 novels, seven mystery-suspense novels under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith, four novellas, several novels for young adults, 26 collections of short stories, 30 limited-edition chapbooks of fiction and poetry, eight collections of poetry, seven books of plays, and eight collections of nonfiction ranging from literary criticism to a book on boxing. This output is all the more astonishing when one realizes that a large percentage of her stories, poems, essays, and book reviews have never been collected. Moreover, Oates has not only taught writing at universities for the last forty years, but has also edited the Ontario Review and nearly 20 anthologies.

The critical reservations about Oatess stature may be condensed to three major concerns: first, that she has written too much to have written enough of it carefully; second, that she has dabbled in technical experiments and has not formulated technical innovations that have had a marked influence on the work of other writers; and third, that her work exhibits an almost obsessive interest in a rather narrow range of themes most notably, the nature and effects of violence, the paradoxical toughness and fragility of the human psyche, the paradoxical vulnerability and perseverance of women, and the changes in 20th-century American culture.

Without being too flippant, one might address these reservations, at least in part, by turning them back on themselves: first, Oates has written so much that very few critics have the authority to comment on her whole body of work; second, some critics seem to have confused literary influence with public persona or celebrity and have undervalued Oatess influence because of her very quiet personal life; and third, Oates has approached her major themes from such diverse points of view and treated them within such varied literary forms that the result is not thematic redundancy but a daunting thematic complexity.

Oates was born and raised in rural western New York. Her immediate ancestors were a polyglot combination of immigrants, including Irish, Hungarian

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First published 28 February 2003

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