The variety of topics covered in this collection of 27 essays is as remarkable as the proliferation of insights each contains. There are essays on somewhat general subjectssuch as the creative impulse, what it means to be a woman writer though the imagination is genderless and the abundance of ``wonderlands'' in our culture (vide Plato, Poe, Frankenstein , Lewis Carroll, Kafka et al . )and invigorating re-explorations of individual writers such as Melville, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Bronte, R. L. Stevenson and Hemingway. There are occasional pieces on, for example, Mike Tyson, Winslow Homer's paintings and meeting the Gorbachevs; a Budapest journal; and prefaces to Oates's own novels. Oates ( Contraries , New Heaven, New Earth ) is a master of compact summary (``Only the imagery of Kafka's surfaces is dreamlike; what lies beneath is history''); and she has an almost impish ability to surprise, as when she tells us criticism is a form of storytelling, food a kind of poetry. Major ad/promo. (July)
Oates's latest collection of essays (her fifth) is wide-ranging, literary, and often academic. From philosophic discussion about the nature of artand particularly of writingOates explores the works of Dickinson, Kafka, Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, and Thoreau, among others. Her prose and opinions are marredor enlightened, depending on your viewpointby a feminist sensibility occasionally suggesting that she has a chip on her shoulder. Her tone can be mannered and self-conscious, flavored with an irony that often diminishes her well-taken points. Yet she is intellectually demanding and literate, presenting the world through the prism of a very writerly consciousness: the world as art form. Linda L. Rome, Mentor, Ohio
In a prolific and varied oeuvre that ranges over essays, plays, criticism, and several genres of fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has proved herself one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world. She has often used her supreme narrative skills to examine the dark side of middle-class Americana, and her oeuvre includes some of the finest examples of modern essays, plays, criticism, and fiction from a vast array of genres. She is still publishing with a speed and consistency of quality nearly unheard of in contemporary literature.
A born storyteller, Oates has been spinning yarns since she was a little girl too young to even write. Instead, she would communicate her stories through drawings and paintings. When she received her very first typewriter at the age of 14, her creative floodgates opened with a torrent. She says she wrote "novel after novel" throughout high school and college -- a prolificacy that has continued unabated throughout a professional career that began in 1963 with her first short story collection, By the North Gate.
Oates's breakthrough occurred in 1969 with the publication of them, a National Book Award winner that established her as a force to be reckoned with. Since that auspicious beginning, she has been nominated for nearly every major literary honor -- from the PEN/Faulkner Award to the Pulitzer Prize -- and her fiction turns up with regularity on The New York Times annual list of Notable Books.
On average Oates publishes at least one novel, essay anthology, or story collection a year (during the 1970s, she produced at the astonishing rate of two or three books a year!). And although her fiction often exposes the darker side of America's brightest facades – familial unrest, sexual violence, the death of innocence – she has also made successful forays into Gothic novels, suspense, fantasy, and children's literature. As novelist John Barth once remarked, "Joyce Carol Oates writes all over the aesthetical map."
Where she finds the time for it no one knows, but Oates manages to combine her ambitious, prolific writing career with teaching: first at the University of Windsor in Canada, then (from 1978 on), at Princeton University in New Jersey. For all her success and fame, her daily routine of teaching and writing has changed very little, and her commitment to literature as a transcendent human activity remains steadfast.
Good To Know
When not writing, Oates likes to take in a fight. "Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost," she says in highbrow fashion of the lowbrow sport.
Oates's Black Water, which is a thinly veiled account of Ted Kennedy's car crash in Chappaquiddick, was produced as an opera in the 1990s.
In 2001, Oprah Winfrey selected Oates's novel We Were the Mulvaneys for her Book Club.