Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates

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Granted privileged access to Joyce Carol Oates's letters and journals, as well as extensive interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and Oates herself, biographer Greg Johnson examines the relationship between Oates's life and work in this fascinating exploration of a complex and gifted artist. Johnson reveals little-known facts about Oates's personal and family history and debunks many of the myths that have arisen about this brilliant, enigmatic woman. Johnson takes readers from Oates's impoverished ...
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Overview

Granted privileged access to Joyce Carol Oates's letters and journals, as well as extensive interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and Oates herself, biographer Greg Johnson examines the relationship between Oates's life and work in this fascinating exploration of a complex and gifted artist. Johnson reveals little-known facts about Oates's personal and family history and debunks many of the myths that have arisen about this brilliant, enigmatic woman. Johnson takes readers from Oates's impoverished childhood in upstate New York and the birth of her autistic sister through Oates's studies at Syracuse University, where her talent was immediately recognized, to the full breadth of her astonishingly productive career. His astute examination of Oates's novels, short stories, and plays demonstrates how her art has been informed by her life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Commenting on her output of more than 400 published stories, 30-plus novels and other writings, a hostile critic called Oates an "inexhaustible word machine." Johnson, however, evokes her as something more than a typist with a self-confessed "blindness toward excess." Despite Oates's melodramatic oeuvre and her unmelodramatic career, he reveals a life that is more than her works. He not only describes how Oates's hardscrabble upstate New York, violent Detroit and uppity Princeton are metamorphosed and mythologized in her fiction but also displays the humanizing if occasionally unflattering dimension of the writer labeled by John Updike the foremost "woman of letters" in America. Although admiring, Johnson sees in his subject a propensity to exploit unflatteringly people and situations from her life, and he explores the anorexic emaciation, chronic insomnia and attacks of tachycardia that have afflicted her. The author, an English professor at Kennesaw State College in Georgia, concludes that Princeton has been too comfortable, failing to furnish Oates in her middle yearsshe will be 60 in 1998with conflict sufficient to power her abilities to their potential, beyond a "Bosch-like American garden of hellish delights." (Apr.)
Library Journal
With Oates's cooperation and that of her family, friends, and acquaintances, Johnson (English, Kennesaw State Coll.) provides a comprehensive close-up and personal view of the prolific, controversial 20th-century writer. From Oates's birth in Lockport, New York, to her present life in Princeton, New Jersey, Johnson skillfully interweaves the background, personality, character, lifestyle, and writings of the author. Through this fascinating and well-written biography, readers will feel that they know Oates almost as well as anyone can and may find themselves vacillating between great admiration and empathy for the life of this writer possessed by an insatiable desire for writing, but also possessing an unstoppable, inventive imagination and the incredible energy necessary to feed the desire. Whether or not a fan of Oates's writings, anyone interested in literary biography should read this intriguing account of the extraordinary life of a writer. Highly recommended.Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
An authorized portrait of the intensely prolific novelist as an artist and a person. As Oates's literary executor, fiction writer Johnson (Pagan Babies, 1993; I Am Dangerous, 1996; etc.) wisely uses his access to her presumably massive hoard of papers to develop relatively select themes important in her life. He traces her understanding of violence, for example, to incidents from her family's past; to Oates's schoolyard brushes with brutality in her rural New York hometown; to her mid-1960s stint in riot-charged Detroit; and also to several eerie, Rothian, and ominous encounters with fans and students. Her compassion for victims also originated, Johnson says, in her childhood, as did her devotion to "memorializing" her parents. But the strongest force animating Oates is doubtless her will to produce, displayed for decades in her famous literary profusion, resulting from a routine protected by a "bourgeois" lifestyle and stable marriage to the scholar and critic Raymond Smith. Intertwined with the biographical narrative, Johnson provides a blandly respectful overview of of the writers artistic growth, charted partly through the record offered in her journal entries. Throughout, Johnson heeds Oates's belief that biographies should be "solidly grounded in fact"; the result is a full characterization of a multilayered, idiosyncratic woman. In fact, the book is so stocked with documentation that it sometimes goes over the top. For non-diehard Oatesians, this excess will be too much, reflecting the main drawback of nearly all biographies written by allies of the portrayed subject: a loyalty that tends to overstep its bounds. A more basic narrative problem is the relatively quiet lifeOates has led, tame at least by the standards of literary lions. This life of talent dutifully plied, sustained, and rewarded offers less drama and excitement than any of the tales Oates has concocted in her fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525941637
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.61 (d)

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