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The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982by Joyce Carol Oates
Synopses & Reviews
On New Year's Day 1973, Joyce Carol Oates began keeping a journal, which she maintains to this day. Already a well-established literary force by the age of thirty-four, Oates had written three books that had been named finalists for the National Book Award (in 1968, 1969, and 1972), and her novel them won the award in 1970; she had also received a number of O. Henry Awards, in addition to many other honors. Despite the warm critical reception from the literary world, however, the young author was naturally reticent about her personal life and would remain so throughout her career.
The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson, offers a rare first glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer. This volume focuses on excerpts from the journal written during the crucial first decade, 1973-1982, one of the most productive of Oates's long career. Housed in her archive at Syracuse University, the journals themselves run to more than 5,000 single-spaced typewritten pages. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore Oates's friendship with other writers, including John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, and Philip Roth, among others. Oates also describes, in vivid and captivating detail, her university teaching, her love of the natural world, her rural background, her vast reading, her critics, her travels, and, predominantly, the "silent, secret" life of the imagination.
What emerges is a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young woman, fully engaged with her world and her culture — a writer who paradoxically thought of herself as "invisible" while becoming one of the most respected, honored, discussed, and controversial figures in American letters.
"Writing is... a drug, sweet, irresistible, and exhausting,' writes Oates in this fascinating and significant record of an artist's life. She was 34 when she began this 'experiment in consciousness,' which follows the gestation and writing of many of her most important works. Oates, readers come to realize, is intensely disciplined, exquisitely sensitive, unflaggingly — almost morbidly — introspective, concerned with philosophical issues, attuned to mysticism and acutely responsive to the natural world. Although she abhors being described as prolific, she writes daily, with feverish energy; she herself uses the word 'obsessed.' If a day or two passes when she isn't writing, she feels 'profound worthlessness.' Teaching, she reveals, is a vital component of her well-being, although it often leaves her exhausted. The journal records her relationships with contemporary authors, including Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Gail Godwin, Stanley Elkin, John Gardner and Donald Barthelme. She is candid about her 'intensely' intimate marriage to Raymond Smith, her lack of maternal instinct and the hours she spends at the piano, an obsession almost equal to her writing. Overall, this journal immerses the reader in a complex, searching, imaginative personality — an artist who continues to refine her search for literary expression. 16 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Not surprisingly, the volume is quite lengthy, but it is both well edited and fascinating, though best read at a leisurely pace. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Few living writers fascinate readers as Oates does, and this generous volume is rich in literary and personal revelations." Booklist
"Admirers of Oates's books will be intrigued to discover the author's occasional comments on the consciousness of her characters...as well as her thoughts on the creative process." New York Times
"For the Oates reader, perhaps the great revelation of this book is the contrast between the deliberately quiet, contained life of the writer and the vast, unrestrained and sometimes shockingly imaginative character of her work." Dallas Morning News
"Oates offers readers a certain chirpiness in describing the stream of famous authors, including John Updike and Susan Sontag, who pass through her social circle." Chicago Sun-Times
Book News Annotation:
One wonders how Oates got the time to write, considering the sheer heft of her journals, but then one comes to the realization that the journals are the bones without flesh, or the flesh without bones, or some knot of both that became the root of her prolific output. Entries concern family, colleagues, and friends but never descend to pure gossip, largely due to editing that protects the dignity of the living. The effect of this necessary surgery is not to leave blanks in Oates's history but to reveal a self-imposed discipline bordering on the perturbing. Yet Oates does not combine this discipline with distance and instead establishes and maintains her life's project, an "experiment in consciousness." Oates hones her writing and her art page by page, tempting the reader to establish the discipline of reading with the journal in one hand and the relevant novel in the other. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The fascinating personal journal of Joyce Carol Oates has been gathered from one of the most important and productive periods of her long career.
About the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of the forthcoming novel The Gravedigger's Daughter. She is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
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