In the iconic black-and-white photographs of her, Joyce Carol Oates looks brooding, as if she were the kind of woman whose literary work would be in the realm of gothic fiction and dark dramas. Oates definitely exhibits a passion for dark thrills, but her writing spans genres — from poetry (Dreaming America) to short stories (They Just Went Away), young adult novels (Freaky Green Eyes), and children’s literature (Come Meet Muffin!).
Born in 1938 in Lockport, N.Y., she started writing when she was 14, after receiving a typewriter as a gift. She wrote for her school’s newspaper and was the first high-school graduate in her family. Oates, an alumna of Syracuse University (which holds a collection of her papers, including 17 unpublished short stories and four unpublished or unfinished novellas), has written more than 70 books and is often on the short list of those in contention for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since 1978, Oates, who has been a five-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has been a professor in Princeton University’s creative writing program. Receiving the Norman Mailer Prize in Lifetime Achievement in 2012 cemented her as one of the greatest female American novelists of all time.
Here, a passage from A Widow’s Story:
“There is an hour, a minute — you will remember it forever — when you know instinctively on the basis of the most inconsequential evidence, that something is wrong. You don’t know — can’t know — that it is the first of a series of ‘wrongful’ events that will culminate in the utter devastation of your life as you have known it.”
— Madison Flavin